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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 00:27 GMT
Surprise births not uncommon
Not everybody is aware they are pregnant
The phenomenon of women failing to realise they are going to give birth until the later stages of pregnancy may not be as rare as is commonly assumed.

Researchers from Germany examined denied pregnancies - where a woman has not acknowledged or has been unaware of her pregnancy.

They asked hospitals and midwives in the Berlin area to report cases of women who were not aware of being pregnant during the first 20 weeks or more.

Altogether 62 women did not realise they were pregnant until after 20 weeks' gestation - one in 475 of the total.


In 37 women pregnancy was diagnosed before the birth, in the rest the diagnosis was made during the labour.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the researchers from Humboldt University, said: "The common view that denied pregnancies are exotic and rare events is not valid.

"Deliveries in which the woman has not been aware of her pregnancy until going into labour occur about three times more often than triplets."

The researchers warn that failure to realise that a women is pregnant can pose a health risk to both the mother and her developing child.

They say they cannot be certain whether these results are generally applicable outside of Berlin.

However, a previous study in the large Austrian city of Innsbruck produced similar results.

In denial

Mary Newburn, director of policy for the National Childbirth Trust, told BBC News Online that it was possible that some people simply refused to admit to themselves that they were pregnant.

In some cases it might also be possible that younger women were not aware of the significance of the changes occurring to their bodies.

She said: "Most of us put on two or three stone (28-42lbs) while we are pregnant and by the end of pregnancy feel very much as though it is dominating our entire being, so it is difficult to imagine how anybody could get to the later stages of pregnancy and not realise it.

"But pregnancies do vary enormously, and particularly for bigger women the amount of weight they put on is less proportionately."

The research is published in the British Medical Journal.

See also:

02 Aug 01 | Health
Depression in pregnancy 'common'
02 Aug 01 | Health
New mothers 'neglected'
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