What Is a Phantom Pregnancy?
Medical review policy, latest update:, what is a phantom pregnancy, symptoms of a phantom pregnancy, what's the difference between a phantom pregnancy and a real pregnancy, more about pregnancy loss and mental health during pregnancy, causes of a phantom pregnancy, a mind-body feedback loop, a physical condition, a mental health condition, what to do about a phantom pregnancy.
The phenomenon of phantom pregnancy is very rare, but to the woman experiencing it, it feels very real. Support and emotional care will be crucial in helping the hopeful mom-to-be accept the truth and move forward in a healthy way.
What to Expect When You're Expecting , 5th edition, Heidi Murkoff. WhatToExpect.com, Pregnancy Tests , September 2020. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners , Pseudocyesis , June 2016. National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus, Pregnancy Test , December 2020. National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Endocrinology and Physiology of Pseudocyesis , May 2013. National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Pseudocyesis: A Complication of Antipsychotic-Induced Increased Prolactin Levels and Weight Gain , July 2013. Psychology Today , The Heartbreaking Phenomenon of False Pregnancy , February 2016. UpToDate, Pseudocyesis , January 2021.
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What Is Phantom Pregnancy?
The causes, symptoms, and treatment for pseudocyesis
Phantom pregnancy, also known as pseudocyesis or false pregnancy, is a condition in which a person believes that they are pregnant when they are not. Pregnancy symptoms, such as the absence of their period , feeling phantom fetal movements, and a growing abdomen, occur in people with pseudocyesis even though they are not pregnant.
Phantom pregnancy is a rare disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth Edition (DSM-5) classifies the condition under Somatic Symptom Disorders, a group of disorders that are characterized by physical symptoms.
Phantom pregnancy is especially rare in developed countries where people seek prenatal care early. In those cases, phantom pregnancy usually resolves quickly when a person learns from taking a pregnancy test or from their doctor that they are not pregnant.
Here is an overview of phantom pregnancy, including the signs and symptoms, how it is diagnosed, and the options available for treatment.
Satoshi-K / Getty Images
People experiencing a phantom pregnancy have many of the same physical signs and symptoms as people who are pregnant. The symptoms may last a few weeks or for as long as nine months.
The most common signs are changes in menstruation , as well as changes in breast size and shape. Other possible signs and symptoms of a phantom pregnancy include:
- Amenorrhea (no periods) or light periods
- Abdominal distention
- Phantom fetal movements
- Breast changes (increase in size, darkening of areola)
- Milk secretion
- Weight gain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Uterine and cervical changes
It’s not clear why phantom pregnancy occurs. However, certain people—especially those who have experienced pregnancy loss or who are undergoing fertility treatments—seem to be more at risk for developing the condition.
Researchers have noticed there are certain endocrinologic similarities in people who have phantom pregnancies.
In a 2013 literature review of people who experienced phantom pregnancy, the researchers noted shared endocrine traits in people who had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and people with major depressive disorder .
The study also found a deficit in brain dopamine activity and dysfunction of the sympathetic nervous system and central nervous system in people experiencing a phantom pregnancy.
The researchers suggested that these shared traits may lead to endocrine changes that cause the symptoms that arise—such as abnormal periods, protruding abdomen, phantom fetal movements, and labor pains—in people who experience phantom pregnancy.
Several conditions can mimic phantom pregnancy. The first step in diagnosing a phantom pregnancy is ruling out other conditions that could explain a person’s symptoms.
One of the key ways that a phantom pregnancy differs from other disorders is that it is the only condition in which the physical symptoms of pregnancy develop.
Before making a diagnosis of a phantom pregnancy, a doctor needs to rule out other conditions including:
- Delusion of pregnancy : A delusional disorder in which a person falsely believes that they are pregnant even in the absence of pregnancy symptoms.
- Deceptive/simulated pregnancy : A disorder in which a person says that they are pregnant even though they know they are not.
- Erroneous pseudocyesis : A disorder in which a person misinterprets symptoms from another disease as those of pregnancy.
The diagnosis of a phantom pregnancy hinges on the presence of physical symptoms of pregnancy plus clinical evidence, such as a negative pregnancy test or ultrasound , that shows no evidence of a pregnancy.
There is no universal clinical treatment for phantom pregnancy. A doctor needs to evaluate each case individually to determine which treatment or combination of treatments will be the most beneficial.
Since phantom pregnancy involves physical and mental health symptoms, effective treatment requires cooperation between medical and mental health professionals.
Possible treatments for phantom pregnancy include:
- Clinical tests that disprove pregnancy
- Medications such as antidepressants or antipsychotics
- Hormonal therapy
- Uterine dilation and curettage (D&C)
Often, clinical confirmation that a person is not pregnant is enough for the symptoms of pregnancy to go away. However, more treatment might be necessary to help the person make a complete physical and emotional recovery.
In some cases, a person may reject the diagnosis and continue to believe that they are pregnant, despite evidence to the contrary. In these situations, the care of a mental health professional is crucial.
The incidence of phantom pregnancy is extremely low, and rates have declined significantly in the United States over the last several decades. In 1940, the rate was one in 250 pregnancies. By 2007, the rate had dropped to between one and six cases in 22,000 pregnancies.
Rates in Less Developed Countries
In other parts of the world, phantom pregnancy is more common. For example, in Nigeria, the rate is as high as one in 344 pregnancies. In Sudan, the condition affects one in 160 people who have undergone fertility treatments.
Phantom pregnancy occurs more frequently in less developed countries. In countries with ready access to health care and where people receive prenatal care early, it happens less often, likely because people can see clinical evidence early on that they are not pregnant.
The rates of phantom pregnancy tend to be higher in cultures that place a high value on pregnancy and motherhood.
Mental Health and Sociodemographic Factors
Research has shown that people who experience phantom pregnancy have some predisposing traits in common, including depression, anxiety, a desire to be pregnant, or a fear of becoming pregnant.
There are also other sociodemographic factors that make a person more likely to have a phantom pregnancy. Risk factors include:
- Lower socioeconomic status
- Limited education
- Relationship instability
- Having an abusive partner
About 80% of people who experience a phantom pregnancy are married.
Having a phantom pregnancy can be a traumatic experience. Realizing that you are not pregnant can feel like a devastating loss. Grief is a common response to learning that you are not pregnant when you believed that you were. It can also be unnerving to realize that the physical symptoms that you were having were not being caused by pregnancy.
Talking to your doctor and a mental health professional, as well as reaching out to trusted people in your life for support, is crucial in getting through the process of being diagnosed with phantom pregnancy, treating the condition, and recovering from the experience.
A Word From Verywell
If you have experienced a phantom pregnancy, you may feel shame or embarrassment for thinking that you were pregnant when you were not. It’s important to remember that a phantom pregnancy is an actual condition with real symptoms and not something to be ashamed of.
Even if your symptoms go away once you get a clinical diagnosis, you may still benefit from additional support. Talk to your doctor about whether medication or psychotherapy would be a helpful part of your recovery.
As you recover, turn to people in your life who can support you, like your family and friends. In-person or online support groups for people who have also experienced a phantom pregnancy are another option that might help you feel less alone.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR) . American Psychiatric Association; 2022. doi:10.1176/appi.books.9780890425787
Azizi M, Elyasi F. Biopsychosocial view to pseudocyesis: a narrative review . Int J Reprod Biomed . 2017;15(9):535-542.
Tarín J, Hermenegildo C, García-Pérez M, et al. Endocrinology and physiology of pseudocyesis . Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology . 2013;11(1):39. doi:10.1186/1477-7827-11-39
Campos S, Link D. Pseudocyesis . The Journal for Nurse Practitioners . 2016;12(6):390-394. doi:10.1016/j.nurpra.2016.03.009
By Kathi Valeii As a freelance writer, Kathi has experience writing both reported features and essays for national publications on the topics of healthcare, advocacy, and education. The bulk of her work centers on parenting, education, health, and social justice.
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What is a phantom pregnancy?
A phantom pregnancy or false pregnancy happens when a woman has pregnancy symptoms but isn't pregnant. Phantom pregnancy is rare, and experts don't know exactly what causes it, but it's probably a combination of psychological and hormonal factors. In a phantom pregnancy, the pregnancy test comes back negative and an ultrasound shows that there's no baby. A woman who has a false pregnancy will need plenty of support from her caregiver to deal with symptoms, any medical condition causing the phantom pregnancy, and the psychological aftermath.
How common is phantom pregnancy?
Is a false pregnancy the same as a delusional pregnancy, what causes phantom pregnancy, phantom pregnancy symptoms, phantom pregnancy treatments.
A phantom pregnancy happens when a woman believes she's pregnant and has pregnancy symptoms , but isn't pregnant. It's also called a false pregnancy or pseudocyesis. (People once also referred to it as an hysterical pregnancy or fake pregnancy.)
A woman experiencing a false pregnancy may have nausea , a growing abdomen, swollen and tender breasts, and weight gain . Half to three-quarters of women with a phantom pregnancy think they feel the baby moving . Some even experience labor pains .
Phantom pregnancies are rare. Estimates vary but range from 1 to 6 cases per 22,000 births in the United States. False pregnancies were more common in the past, before the widespread use of ultrasounds . Interestingly, they're more common in cultures where motherhood and fertility are emphasized. In Africa, for example, the rates of phantom pregnancy are estimated at about 1 in 160.
Eighty percent of women who experience a phantom pregnancy are married, and most are between the ages of 20 and 44. It can happen at any age, though, including childhood or in the senior years. A woman can have a phantom pregnancy more than once. It can even (very rarely) happen to men. This is called a sympathetic pregnancy or Couvade syndrome.
No, a false pregnancy and a delusion of pregnancy aren't the same. With a delusion, women don't experience symptoms. Women who have a delusion of pregnancy are mentally ill and believe that they're pregnant, even though they have no symptoms. It's important for doctors to distinguish between the two because a delusional pregnancy requires different psychiatric treatment than a phantom pregnancy.
We don't know what causes phantom pregnancy, though experts suggest that both psychological and hormonal factors are at play. (Because it's such a rare condition, there's not much data, and studies are largely based on individual case reports.) Basically, the body is tricked into thinking it's pregnant. An increase in hormones such as estrogen and prolactin lead to pregnancy symptoms.
Here are the main theories about what causes phantom pregnancy:
A psychosomatic condition . Because of intense pressure or desire to be pregnant, a woman's brain triggers hormonal changes that cause pregnancy symptoms. This may happen when a woman has struggled with infertility or had a miscarriage or loss of an infant, or another traumatic event. It also sometimes happens to women who have an intense fear of pregnancy.
Some experts theorize that abdominal growth, the sensation of feeling fetal movement, and the experience of labor pain may be due to increased activity in the sympathetic nervous system (the body's "fight or flight" system).
Another medical condition . Sometimes a completely unrelated illness can cause elevated hormonal levels or other physical reactions that lead to pregnancy symptoms. These conditions include ovarian tumors, severe depression, cancer, obesity, and ectopic pregnancy . Even weight gain, constipation, or gas – when paired with psychological factors – can cause abdominal distention that a woman may interpret as pregnancy. In one recent study, more than 16 percent of cases of phantom pregnancy were linked to medical conditions.
Major depressive disorders . Women with severe depression or severe stress may have changes in reproductive hormones. In addition, antipsychotic medications can cause some pregnancy-like symptoms, such as weight gain, loss of menstruation, and breast tenderness.
The risk of phantom pregnancy is higher in women who have depression or who have:
- Lost a pregnancy
- A history of infertility
- A history of abuse or current abuse
- Relationship instability
Phantom pregnancy symptoms are primarily the same as for pregnancy, including:
- Menstrual changes (no period or irregular cycle)
- Weight gain, swollen belly
- Enlarged and tender breasts
- Sensation of fetal movements
- Gastrointestinal symptoms and abdominal pain
- Frequent urination
- Food cravings
Women with a phantom pregnancy may have symptoms for a few weeks, for 9 months, or longer.
If a woman has a phantom pregnancy, her pregnancy test will be negative. Her body won't produce human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), the pregnancy hormone. An ultrasound will also reveal that there's no baby.
If a woman has a phantom pregnancy, her caregiver will:
Provide evidence . This can be devastating to a woman who thought she was pregnant, but her caregiver will show her (with test results and/or an ultrasound if necessary) that she isn't pregnant. The caregiver should strive to be empathetic. She might assure the patient that her belief that she was pregnant was understandable given the symptoms, for example.
Address other medical conditions . After determining that a woman has a phantom pregnancy, her caregiver will want to rule out – or address – other medical conditions that may be causing the pregnancy symptoms.
Reduce symptoms . If the woman isn't having menstrual periods, for example, the caregiver may restore them with the use of hormonal intervention, if necessary. She might also help address symptoms such as nausea and fatigue.
Provide psychological support. A woman facing a false pregnancy will need support from family and friends and possibly psychotherapy and/or medication to help her through it.
- Am I pregnant?
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BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies .
Campos SJ et al. 2016. Pseudocyesis. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners 12(6). https://www.npjournal.org/article/S1555-4155(16)00222-1/pdf [Accessed March 2021]
Gogia S et al. 2020. Medical considerations in delusion of pregnancy: a systematic review. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology . https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0167482X.2020.1779696 [Accessed March 2021]
Grover S et al. 2013. Pseudocyesis: A complication of antipsychotic-induced increased prolactin levels and weight gain. Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics 4(3): 214-216. https://europepmc.org/article/med/23960430 [Accessed March 2021]
Ibekwe P et al. 2008. Psychosocial and cultural aspects of pseudocyesis. Indian Journal of Psychiatry 50(2): 112-116. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738334/ [Accessed March 2021]
Perpetus C et al. 2008. Psychosocial and cultural aspects of pseudocyesis. Indian Journal of Psychiatry 50(2): 112-116. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738334/#CIT4 [Accessed March 2021[
Tarin JJ et al 2013. Endocrinology and physiology of pseudocyesis. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology 11:39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3674939/ [Accessed March 2021]
Yadav T et al 2012. Pseudocyesis versus delusion of pregnancy: Differential diagnoses to be kept in mind. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine . https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.4103/0253-7176.96167 [Accessed March 2021]
Where to go next
The science of phantom pregnancies: a very real—and very rare—condition
First highly detailed in Queen Mary back in 1555, the uncommon disorder can cause a woman’s body to mimic signs of pregnancy, from a lack of menstrual periods to a distended stomach.
In April 1555, Queen Mary I—better known to history as “Bloody Mary”—went into seclusion as she awaited the birth of her first child. At 38, the eldest daughter of King Henry VIII desperately needed an heir, preferably male, to secure an alliance with Spain and continued Catholic rule in England. The stakes were high.
Still, both Mary and the nation were optimistic. The year after she'd married Philip II of Spain, the Queen looked pregnant: Her breasts and belly had swelled, and she reported morning sickness and movement in her womb. As such, the nursery was prepared, wet nurses were on call, and announcement letters were prepared and signed, leaving just the date of delivery and sex of the child to be filled in.
Yet “as the weeks passed, the mood became one of despair,” writes Anna Whitlock, author of Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen . Rumors spread the Queen was dead, or that the child had died, and another would be swapped in its place.
The truth was less scandalous: Despite all appearances to the contrary, Mary had never been pregnant to begin with, having the misfortune of being history’s first well-documented case of a very rare phenomenon called pseudocyesis.
Sometimes called false, hysterical, phantom, or delusional pregnancy, pseudocyesis manifests most or all symptoms of pregnancy, but no fetus.
For instance, a sufferer doesn’t have a menstrual period, her breasts get larger and may even express milk, and her stomach is distended, says Mary Seeman , professor emerita at the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry. Such physical manifestations also occur alongside fatigue, nausea, and frequent urination.
“Her body is acting pregnant, so she believes she’s pregnant, but she’s not otherwise delusional,” says Seeman, who’s long studied the mental disorder. (Why women’s health concerns are dismissed more and studied less.)
Most cases have psychological and physiological elements. The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual, DSM-5-TR , places pseudocyesis in the category of other specified somatic symptom and related disorder, along with other difficult-to-categorize disorders such as illness anxiety disorder (aka hypochondria) or factitious disorder (aka Munchausen’s).
How common is pseudocyesis?
In 2007, a review in the International Journal of Reproductive BioMedicine estimated there are between one and six cases per 22,000 pregnancies in the United States . That’s a huge drop since 1940, when the statistic was one case of pseudocyesis per 250 pregnancies—exactly the likelihood of natural twins.
These numbers climb drastically outside the U.S.
“There are parts of Africa, for example, where pregnancy is very valued and medical care is hard to access, so pseudocyesis is not uncommon,” says Seeman, who has encountered about 20 cases in her practice since 1960.
Because of modern medicine and the wide availability of ultrasounds, very few cases of pseudocyesis today go undetected until apparent “delivery.”
Those that do, like Queen Mary’s, often make headlines. In 2014, for example, a Quebec woman convinced her town she was expecting quintuplets . At 34 weeks, she went to the hospital to deliver—where a nurse discovered there were no babies at all.
“Pseudocyesis is notoriously difficult to study,” says Seeman, mostly due to its rarity and the complexities of the patient’s mental health. But there's one common thread: “The patient usually desperately wants to be pregnant.” (See public places that honor the grief of pregnancy loss.)
Besides a baby, pregnancy may also provide a woman with particular benefits, such as better care, attention, and even respect. Unsurprisingly, Seeman says, pseudocyesis occurs more often in cultures where married women are expected to produce children.
A still-mysterious condition
“The medical establishment, even within the field of OB-GYN, does not have a good understanding of pseudocyesis,” says Shannon M. Clark, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at the University of Texas Medical Branch who has seen cases of false pregnancy.
Understanding what’s happening in the body of a woman with pseudocyesis would help both treat the condition and reduce the stigma of the sufferer being labeled as “crazy,” Clark says. (Learn how increasing temperatures are harming pregnant women.)
Pop culture hasn’t helped: For instance, the lead character in the upcoming TV show American Horror Story: Delicate experiences violent and terrifying hallucinations during a supposed pregnancy, an example of a cinematic trope called “pregnancy horror.”
As always, real life isn’t so dramatic. Though changes in hormones such as prolactin, estrogen, and progesterone can occur, there’s no clear pattern or elevation of hormone levels associated with the condition, Clark says.
And the psychiatric drugs doctors might prescribe to a patient, meanwhile, could actually worsen her health.
For instance, some antipsychotic drugs raise levels of prolactin, a hormone responsible for lactation, which may just further convince the patient—and her body—that she’s indeed pregnant.
Prolactin levels also increase with stress, and “it’s safe to say that a woman who’s convinced she’s pregnant when a test repeatedly says she’s not is certainly under severe stress,” says Seeman.
Who suffers from pseudocyesis?
Immense stress was likely the trigger for Queen Mary’s pseudocyesis, experts say.
Nearly a year into her so-called pregnancy, Mary finally emerged from her chamber and no one spoke of it again (at least officially). She died three years later, childless, and the throne passed to her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth I.
“Pseudocyesis affects people from all ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups,” notes Clark. And although it’s most common in those aged 20 to 39, it can occur in post-menopausal women as well. (Learn how AI could offer more insight into neglected women’s health issues.)
Pseudocyesis in men is even scarcer, though medical literature documented examples of the phenomenon in two American men, in 1984 and 1995 . In April 2022, scientists reported a 28-year-old American transgender woman who presented as pregnant with twins .
Unlike many cisgender women with pseudocyesis, these three individuals all demonstrated severe mental illnesses.
A widespread denial
Just as Queen Mary did for nearly a year in 1555, modern patients with pseudocyesis will not accept evidence that they’re not pregnant, Seeman says.
“They might think their husband doesn’t want them to be pregnant, that he’s colluding with the doctor or hospital. They might think their in-laws are involved. I’ve seen people who believe the doctor has impregnated her but won’t admit it,” she says.
“These delusions can take so many forms because the person can’t accept anyone’s reality but their own. Their reality is they look and feel pregnant, so as far as they’re concerned, they are.”
Fortunately, the medical establishment has started treating these unusual cases with increased interest and sensitivity, Seeman says.
“General psychiatry is paying more attention to issues that they used to consider ‘just’ women’s syndromes,” she says.
From the rest of us, adds Clark, “more understanding and empathy and less judgment and shaming are needed on all fronts.”
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What is a False Pregnancy?
A woman’s intuition is a funny thing. Most women know they are pregnant before they are even far enough along to take a test; we know our bodies and when something is different we can just feel it. What about a phantom pregnancy? There are times when even a woman’s intuition is off and our body tells us we are pregnant when in fact, we are not. This is a phenomenon called Pseudocyesis or a false pregnancy.
What Exactly Is Pseudocyesis or a False Pregnancy?
Pseudocyesis is the medical term for a false pregnancy or what some people refer to as a phantom pregnancy. False pregnancy is characterized by the typical pregnancy symptoms including weight gain, growing belly, morning sickness, irritability, and backache; all the signs of being pregnant without carrying an actual baby. Contrary to what many people believe, false pregnancy is not only found in women but men as well. When a man suffers a false pregnancy, it is usually called Sympathetic Pregnancy.
This is more common when his significant other is pregnant and is dealing with the normal aches and pains that are associated with pregnancy. The medical term when men experience this is called Couvade.
What Causes Pseudocyesis?
Pseudocyesis is extremely rare in both men and women so doctors are still trying to piece together the root cause of the condition. Some believe the cause is physical while others believe it is psychological. Some believe that the cause comes from trauma, either a physical or mental trauma, while others believe it is a chemical imbalance.
Issues that may create a false pregnancy or Pseudocyesis include:
- Miscarriage (usually more than one)
- Loss of a child
- Mental breakdown
In addition, there are also real physical causes as well which include ovarian tumors and a chemical imbalance in the brain that in a way “tricks” the body into thinking it is pregnant.
Out of all of the causes listed above, the most common documented cause is simple – a woman wants to get pregnant so badly that she mentally convinces herself that she is pregnant. There are many reasons why she is not getting pregnant including infertility or simply coming up to menopause. In fact, many women about to enter menopause will go through some form of depression that can lead to a false pregnancy.
When a woman suffers from pseudocyesis, she will develop just as she would during a regular pregnancy; starting out with things like morning sickness and frequency in urination and then it will develop into swollen and sore breasts and eventually into a swollen belly and the look of being pregnant. The only real difference is that there is no real baby and no labor, but possibly the feel of being in labor. There are also cases where it has been shown that patients who suffer from this condition have also experienced some kind of sexual abuse, poverty or other type of emotional trauma. Creating a pregnancy is their brain’s way of coping with the experience.
Signs of Pseudocyesis or a False Pregnancy
Most women who suffer from a false pregnancy truly believe they are pregnant because they experience the same pregnancy symptoms. The signs of false pregnancy are the same as a typical pregnancy.
- missed periods
- swollen belly
- weight gain
- frequent urination
- changes in skin and hair
- swollen breasts
- sensations of fetal movement and contractions
- morning sickness
Additionally, just being generally uncomfortable is also a very common symptom. The only way to ensure they are not actually pregnant is to run tests and complete a physical examination. It is important to remember that a false pregnancy differs greatly from a false pregnancy test.
Tests For Pseudocyesis or False Pregnancy
Since Pseudocyesis mimics every detail of pregnancy, it is important that a doctor ensures that it is actually a fake pregnancy and not a real one. The same tests to confirm an actual pregnancy are done to diagnose a false pregnancy. These tests start with a physical exam including a pelvic exam to determine if there has been any type of conception. Then a urinalysis is completed to verify the findings. A urinalysis will usually come back negative unless the woman is suffering from an illness like a very rare cancer that releases the same hormones as pregnancy.
Ultrasound is another test that will determine if a pregnancy is true or false. This will show, in the event of a false pregnancy that there is no fetus but in some severe cases, the ultrasound may show a softening of the cervix, just as it would in a true pregnancy. An ultrasound is the only test that will 100% disprove or prove a pregnancy.
How To Treat a False Pregnancy or Pseudocyesis
Pregnancy, whether true or false, is an exciting time for an expectant mother. For those who really are pregnant, they enjoy the 9 months they have to bond with their unborn baby, prepare a nursery and get ready to become a parent. That said, those who think and feel like they are pregnant are also feeling that same excitement for the next 9 months and beyond. They are looking forward to raising their baby in their home – watching him or her have their first bath, take their first steps and grow like a typical kid.
Now she is about to find out that what she is feeling, what she is looking forward to, is not going to happen. It is all in her head. Now imagine being the bearer of this news and attempting to treat her; knowing that she had this excitement built up just to have it crushed.
Treating a false pregnancy is very difficult since it is a delicate situation, it is not necessarily a medical problem but more psychological where symptoms can last anywhere from a few weeks to the whole 9 months, to even years. After a doctor has proven for a fact that this is indeed a false pregnancy, they will then conduct some psychological exams to ensure that there is no underlying psychological or neurological condition. After this, they will provide psychological therapy and emotional support as these are the only way to treat pseudocyesis.
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Compiled using information from the following sources:
1. Datta, S., ed., Anesthetic and Obstetric Management of High-Risk Pregnancy, third ed., New York, Springer, 2004.
2. Tarin JJ, et al. 2013. Endocrinology and physiology of pseudocyesis. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology 11(1):39.
3. Gabbe S.G., Niebyl, J.R., Simpson, J.L., eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies, fifth ed., Philadelphia, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2007.
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It's easy to mistake nausea and tiredness for the early signs of pregnancy and rule it out by taking a pregnancy test – but for some women, the symptoms are so compelling they begin to believe they are pregnant even when they are not after receiving a negative pregnancy test result . We take a closer look at the rare condition of false pregnancy, aka phantom pregnancy.
What is a false or phantom pregnancy?
False pregnancy or pseudocyesis (from the Greek ‘pseudes’ meaning false, and ‘kyesis’ meaning pregnant) is when a woman believes she is pregnant and experiences some of the symptoms, but tests prove she isn’t actually carrying a baby. It tends to affect older women, and can last for weeks, months – commonly nine months – or even years, depending on the severity of the condition.
What are the symptoms of a false pregnancy?
A woman with pseudocyesis will often present with physical changes that mimic pregnancy such as:
phantom pregnancy symptoms
1) A bloated or distended tummy
If you suspect you may be pregnant, the first thing you might be tempted to do is look at your stomach for any signs of a little bump. This may however just be some bloating, and although it's uncomfortable, it might not be pregnancy.
One of the earliest signs of pregnancy is morning sickness. This sickness and feelings of nausea won't just be in the morning however, it can impact you at any time of the day.
3) Tender breasts
It's normal to experience breast tenderness throughout your menstrual cycle, and this can be impacted by hormones.
4) Irregular or missed periods
While no signs of your period may make you automatically think you're pregnant, it may not be the case. Some women experience no periods with a negative pregnancy test . There are a whole range of reasons for this, and it's definitely worth contacting your GP if this is not normal for you.
5) Some women might even suggest they can feel fetal movements
Although it's rare, some women may even believe they can feel movements in their abdomen.
How common are phantom pregnancies?
Cases of false pregnancy have been recorded throughout history, most notably by Hippocrates, who documented 12 cases, and it is thought that Queen Mary Tudor also experienced two false pregnancies. The condition is more common in dogs and mice, with dogs suffering from ’pseudopregnancy’ whereby they attach themselves to cuddly toys as if they were puppies.
Today, false pregnancy is considered a very rare condition, with pseudo pregnancies affecting only one in six out of every 22,000 human births in the U.S, with no concrete figures for the UK.
“In the 20 years I have been practising I have only seen three cases,” says Dr Trudi Seneviratne, chair of the perinatal faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists . “It was more common in the 19th century when people were more prone to hysterical episodes, but with medical advancements and pregnancy tests it has become less common.”
In even rarer cases, the strength of the beliefs can influence the endocrine system so the body actually begins to secrete pregnancy hormones, which causes a feedback loop that sustains the belief.
What are the main causes of a phantom pregnancy?
It is still unclear the complex reasons behind the condition but in most cases there is a strong emotional and psychological cause. It tends to emerge in women who are desperate to conceive, who have undergone fertility treatment or have experienced trauma, such as losing a baby due to miscarriage or stillbirth , and those who have a history of abuse, depression or anxiety.
“False pregnancy is normally always down to delusions brought about by psychosis. It often affects women who for whatever reason can’t have a baby but desperately want one and this is the manifestation of that anxiety,” says Dr Seneviratne. “The woman genuinely feels like she is expecting, and the brain tricks the woman into feeling the symptoms. It just goes to show how powerful the brain is. In one case I dealt with, a woman also presented with phantom symptoms of other conditions too, such as heart disease.”
How is a phantom pregnancy diagnosed?
Dr Seneviratne says: “We usually do a urine dipstick test to check for pregnancy and in some cases, where the patient needs more convincing, an ultrasound. We would do a complete mental health check-up to see if the woman has a history of depression, anxiety or psychosis, and we would take into account the family history too.”
How do you treat a phantom pregnancy?
There is no specific treatment or medication for false pregnancy but finding out you are not pregnant, when you are convinced you are expecting, can be devastating for those involved. Sensitivity and understanding is crucial.
“We would treat the condition eclectically with antipsychotic medication, if appropriate, and also counselling,” says Dr Seneviratne. “Talking therapy is very useful for identifying the reasons behind the woman’s convictions.”
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What are the symptoms of a phantom pregnancy?
What is a Phantom Pregnancy?
Phantom pregnancy (or pseudocyesis) is a rare condition that results in a woman (or even a man) believing they are pregnant, displaying the symptoms of pregnancy but with no foetus present. People who experience phantom pregnancy will usually have many of the same symptoms as a pregnant women including weight gain, swollen belly, menstrual irregularity, nausea, engorged breasts and increased hormones.
- Phantom pregnancy is a rare condition that results in a woman believing they are pregnant
A phantom pregnancy may only last as long as it takes to confirm that a pregnancy isn’t taking place e.g. with an ultrasound. But it’s also possible for them to carry on for the full 9 months or even longer.
How common are phantom pregnancies?
Phantom pregnancies is are a very rare condition, with cases actually dropping in the past century. It now only occurs in around 1-6 for every 22,000 births.
What causes a phantom pregnancy to occur?
The exact cause of phantom pregnancy isn’t known, but it thought that it could be a mixture of psychological and physical issues that lead to the body being ‘tricked’ into thinking it’s pregnant.
This could be when a woman experiences a strong desire to be pregnant, either because of infertility, repeat miscarriages , or impending menopause. This can cause the body to produce symptoms similar to those of early pregnancy which the brain then confuses with real pregnancy signals and begins releasing hormones that lead to further pregnancy symptoms.
Treatment of a phantom pregnancy
Finding out you’re experience a phantom pregnancy can be a testing and upsetting time for the woman. The most successful treatment for a phantom pregnancy is the use of an ultrasound or other imaging device to show that there isn’t a foetus developing. Often a phantom pregnancy is a sign of an underlying psychological issue, e.g. severe depression.
In these situations a doctor or health professional will recommend psychological support, including therapy to help deal with the phantom pregnancy and to recover from it.
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Phantom pregnancy (false pregnancy): causes, symptoms and treatments
Dr Louise Wiseman discusses whether phantom pregnancy is real, the causes and how it is treated.
How common is phantom pregnancy?
Phantom pregnancy is an incredibly rare condition and now is thought to occur between 1-6 in 22000 births. In the 1940s, the incidence was 1 in 250 births, so it shows how lifestyle and medicine has reduced the likelihood of this diagnosis.
In men, there is a syndrome called ‘couvade syndrome’ or ‘sympathetic pregnancy’. A healthy man whose partner is pregnant experiences symptoms related to pregnancy . This is more likely actually related to empathy in a partner as they look after their female partner in pregnancy and it is not recognised as a mental illness or disease. Further studies are needed on this. This is not the same as phantom pregnancy in women.
What are the symptoms of phantom pregnancy?
In addition to the person being convinced they are pregnant, there are a number of possible physical symptoms that might also occur. These include:
- Breast swelling. Historically, milk production or colostrum is reported.
- Periods stopping in women, or becoming less frequent.
- Weight gain
- The expansion of the ‘belly’. Thought to be due to gas, fat, faeces or urine rather than pregnancy.
- Just around half of women also believe they experience movements of ‘the baby’.
Some symptoms and signs have been so plausible that doctors are also entirely convinced the woman is pregnant.
What else could it be?
Examples of other conditions are physically very real and resemble pregnancy, and need to be treated, include:
• Certain pelvic or abdominal tumours mimicking pregnancy abdomen changes.
• Certain hormone producing tumours producing pregnancy symptoms, e.g. a pituitary tumour releasing extra prolactin (called a prolactinoma) will produce hormonal symptoms of pregnancy; or, if the pregnancy hormone Beta HCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin) is increased as part of a cancer condition e.g. bronchogenic carcinoma .
• Oral contraceptives (which in some ways mimic the higher progesterone levels of pregnancy) can cause bloating, breast tenderness and enlargement similar to pregnancy.
• Alcoholic liver disease , gall bladder inflammation , urine retention can all elicit symptoms in the abdomen which could be misinterpreted.
What causes phantom pregnancy?
It is thought that a mixture of psychological and physical issues trick the body into ‘thinking it is pregnant’.
There is still indecision amongst scientists and doctors as to the specific causes of this.
However, there are three categories of theory:
• Many believe that a strong desire to be pregnant – due to infertility, previous loss of a baby or child, impending menopause , repeat miscarriages , the end of a relationship – causes the body to mimic symptoms similar to pregnancy. The brain then wrongly interprets these symptoms as real pregnancy signals and then releases further hormones that contribute further to these pregnancy-like symptoms.
• Others believe that the desire to be pregnant is so strong that the patient misinterprets other signs in her body to be pregnancy. Some believe it is a way of the body and mind coping with a loss, abuse or trauma in the past.
• It has also been suggested that chemical changes in the nervous system related to depressive disorders as responsible.
How is phantom pregnancy diagnosed and treated?
Previously before scans and dopplers, it would have been more difficult to distinguish phantom pregnancy from real pregnancy until a baby was not born. However, now with ultrasound, the absence of a pregnancy is easy to diagnose. This can understandably be very distressing for the woman attending a scan hoping to see a first glimpse of her baby.
It does create a natural end for the pregnancy symptoms but if period irregularity or other symptoms are there they may need to be investigated and treated independently to identify any underlying cause.
Urine pregnancy tests will be negative (unless the cause of the symptoms is due to raised HCG if a very rare type of ovarian tumour is present as a cause).
There is no doubt this must be handled delicately and sensitively. Psychological support is necessary to deal with the sudden lack of pregnancy and there may obviously be underlying psychological or neurological reasons for the phantom pregnancy. Emotional support is integral to any therapy.
This is a field about which little is seemingly known and needs to be handled with expert care and in many cases a multidisciplinary team of health professionals may be needed to exclude any treatable underlying diagnosis.
Last updated: 15-10-2020
What Is a Phantom Pregnancy? Your Expert-Reviewed Guide
Whether you’re trying to get pregnant, or trying to not get pregnant, the issue of baby-growing often feels overly fraught with extreme ups and downs.
A phantom pregnancy could be the last thing you want right now.
Phantom pregnancy is yet another of the complicated elements of reproduction that make one realize how very un-black-and-white the whole process is.
You may have heard phantom pregnancy referred to by various terms—false pregnancy, fake pregnancy, hysterical pregnancy (probably our least favorite term), pseudopregnancy, or, its scientific name, pseudocyesis.
(Not sure about the pseudocyesis pronunciation? It’s “soo-doe-sigh-eh-sis”)
But while the terms may sound familiar, this chapter seems too often left out of the book about the birds and the bees.
What is pseudocyesis?
How do you know if you have a phantom pregnancy, how long do phantom pregnancies last, how do you know if you’re having a phantom pregnancy, what causes a phantom pregnancy, how common is a phantom pregnancy, how do you get rid of a phantom pregnancy.
So let’s start with a phantom pregnancy (or pseudocyesis) definition:
Phantom pregnancy describes the event where you show pregnancy symptoms—except the most definitive one: the existence of a growing embryo gestating inside of you.
It is understood as an interaction between the reproductive system and the brain, where a bunch of mixed-up signals start to produce hormonal reactions that make pregnancy symptoms , but you’re not pregnant.
Essentially, somehow your mind tricks your body into thinking you are pregnant when you’re not.
And, the reality is:
- If pregnancy is something you want in your life, a phantom pregnancy is distressing.
- If pregnancy is not something you want in your life, a phantom pregnancy is distressing.
So, before we go any further to look at the symptoms and causes of a false pregnancy, let’s stop for an all-important breather: it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling.
It’s okay (and recommended) to seek medical advice.
And it’s okay to reach out to your loved ones for help.
The symptoms of a phantom pregnancy are vast and may include:
1. Phantom pregnancy belly
Yup, this one can be pretty discombobulating.
Your tummy starts to expand and look like all things pregnant—but what’s happening inside does not match with what it looks like on the outside.
2. Unexpected weight gain
This can go hand-in-hand with phantom pregnancy belly , but you can experience one without the other.
3. Skipped (or irregular) periods
A skipped period is usually one of the earlier signs of pregnancy, so it makes sense as a phantom pregnancy symptom, too.
4. Morning sickness
“ Morning sickness ” isn’t really a term we like using—after all, during pregnancy (or a phantom pregnancy), “morning” sickness can occur at any time of day.”
Pregnancy nausea is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy, and could rear its ugly head during a false pregnancy with:
- Nausea before or after eating ‒ or even when you’re not eating at all
- Stomach cramps
- Hunger pangs
- Aversions to foods, smells, or tastes
5. Tender breasts
Sore breasts can also be an early pregnancy symptom and a phantom pregnancy symptom, or they could feel tingly or achy.
6. Phantom kicks
Of course, phantom kicks can be particularly distressing and really puts the phantom into phantom pregnancy.
What causes phantom kicks?
You can experience phantom kicks (or quickening ) in early pregnancy, post-pregnancy, or even with no pregnancy at all.
Sometimes it’s due to your nerves hyping up every movement around your abdomen, making even a few stomach bubbles or bouts of gas feel like phantom kicks.
But honestly? The science is still out as to what causes the sensation of phantom kicks.
Can phantom kicks be a sign of pregnancy?
Phantom kicks in and of themselves aren’t really a sign of pregnancy.
But some mamas on Peanut have reported feeling phantom kicks soon after finding out they were pregnant—long before baby even has legs to kick!
The duration of symptoms of a phantom pregnancy varies from person to person.
They can last for a few days or weeks, or go on to imitate the entire 9-month duration of a pregnancy.
For some women, they can last for as long as a few years.
If phantom pregnancy is anything, it is complicated.
It is important to note that a false pregnancy is not the same as a delusion of pregnancy, which may occur in women struggling with severe psychosis.
While the research into false pregnancy is relatively young, understanding more about it can help those who are impacted by it better deal with this complex experience.
Do phantom pregnancies test positive?
Sometimes , yes. Phantom pregnancy positive test has been known to happen, although they are rare—less than 1% of all pregnancy tests.
However, this is not typically the case, as without a viable pregnancy, no beta-hCG is being produced, which means no positive line should be triggered.
There can be different reasons why a phantom pregnancy would test positive:
- Medications affecting your hCG levels
- Recent pregnancy loss
- Medical conditions affecting your reproductive system
- Taking pregnancy test incorrectly
However, the majority of the cases of pseudocyesis or phantom pregnancies will result in negative pregnancy tests .
If you’re experiencing symptoms of early or late pregnancy, the only way to tell that it’s a phantom pregnancy is by taking a pregnancy test to make sure.
If the test comes back negative, it’s likely a phantom pregnancy—although it’s best to check with a doctor, along with a few more pregnancy tests, just in case.
If the test comes back positive, then you may be pregnant.
Or it could still be a pseudo-pregnancy. Again, checking in with your doctor and doing several pregnancy tests (if you can) is the best bet.
The best way to know you’re definitely pregnancy is through a blood beta-hCG test or an ultrasound scan later on in your pregnancy.
Firstly, there is no definitive answer to what causes phantom pregnancy.
The source of it seems as varied as the people that experience it.
However, certain commonalities give us some insight. Some of the underlying causes may include:
Many of the causes of phantom pregnancy appear to be linked to psychological trauma around motherhood:
- Wanting or not wanting a baby: Whether this is related to an intense desire to become pregnant or not to become pregnant, the disjunct between the want and the reality seems to send confusing messages to the endocrine system. Phantom pregnancies are also more common in cultural environments where a lot of pressure is put on women to conceive.
- Struggling with infertility or miscarriage: When the whole pregnancy thing starts to become soaked in soreness, phantom pregnancy may result as your body’s way of responding to intense feelings around this particular aspect of your life.
- Losing a child: The pain of this is no doubt unfathomable and a phantom pregnancy could be the body’s way of responding.
- Recovering after an operation: Some women have experienced phantom pregnancies when healing from surgery on their reproductive organs.
Experiencing hormonal fluctuations due to bodily changes such as perimenopause can possibly result in false pregnancy.
Certain medications that affect your hCG levels or other hormones could also trigger a phantom pregnancy.
Pelvic and abdominal tumors, as well as bloating caused by a wide number of medical conditions, could be at the heart of a phantom pregnancy.
A phantom pregnancy could be an early sign of something else, which is why it’s always best to check in with your healthcare provider.
While there’s no doubt it exists, phantom pregnancy is incredibly rare. It’s said to affect only about 1-6 in 22,000 pregnant women in the US .
But while pseudocyesis is rare, it shouldn’t be discounted, as it can be a real source of suffering for the person going through it.
The interesting thing is that men can actually experience symptoms of a phantom pregnancy too.
This is referred to as Couvade syndrome, or sympathetic pregnancy, and typically manifests—both physically and psychologically—in fathers of the babies of expectant mothers.
These phantom pregnancy symptoms can range from weight gain to aches and pains, to nausea and disrupted sleep patterns – and may even occur after the baby has been born.
Interestingly, some fathers may empathetically experience postpartum depression .
Wow. Nature is really something.
What can you do if you think you might have a phantom pregnancy?
Well, the first thing is to seek professional advice from a healthcare practitioner.
They’ll be able to recommend the best course of treatment that might range from ultrasounds to hormone regulation to talk therapy .
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. This is difficult. Seriously difficult.
And it’s okay to be feeling some pretty huge feelings right now. But, with the right help, you can get through this.
So that’s all there is to know about phantom pregnancy and pseudocyesis .
Think you might have a phantom pregnancy? If you’re comfortable, why not share your story with our other mamas and mamas-to-be on Peanut?
You’re not alone—there are plenty of phantom pregnancy stories from our community of women on Peanut .
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What is phantom pregnancy? Everything you need to know
Table of Contents
What are phantom kicks, how does it differ from phantom pregnancy, why do phantom kicks happen, how often can you feel phantom kicks, what you can do about phantom kicks, can meditation help, get the newsletter.
Evidence-based health and wellness resources for fertility, pregnancy and postpartum.
One of the most exciting physical sensations during pregnancy is feeling those first flutters and kicks. But what happens if you feel those symptoms months or even years after you’ve given birth?
If you’ve ever experienced this, you probably got very confused, maybe even a little unnerved. But what you were feeling is a very real phenomenon called phantom kicks, and it’s nothing to be worried about.
While little research has been done around the appearance of phantom kicks postpartum, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that has helped doctors understand what is going on and what you can do if it happens to you.
Most pregnant people anxiously await the moment when they begin to feel their growing baby fluttering around inside ( usually between weeks 16 and 25 1 ). The first time you may wonder if what you’re feeling is a foot or just gas. Then, you look forward to each new twitch until your baby is showing off their strength, sometimes with forceful, stomach-moving kicks. It’s an exciting feeling, but not one you expect to have after your baby is out and bouncing around in the world.
Yet, a few months after giving birth , you may be snuggling with your baby, driving in the car, or cooking dinner when out of the blue you feel what you can swear is a baby kicking inside you.
This is an experience known as phantom kicks, or the perception of fetal movement felt by women after they are pregnant. In one study of 197 women, 40% experienced 2 these sensations. While nearly 27% said the phenomenon felt nostalgic, even comforting, and reminded them of pregnancy, an almost equal number, 25.7%, were left feeling confused or upset.
The biggest thing to remember if this happens to you is that this sensation is normal and whatever emotions it brings up for you are valid.
Because of the name, it’s easy to get phantom kicks confused with phantom pregnancies. While phantom kicks are only the feeling of flutters in the belly, phantom pregnancies—or pseudocyesis 3 —present with more signs and symptoms of pregnancy. People experiencing this condition may have morning sickness, a growing belly, enlarged breasts, missed periods, increased appetite, and weight gain. What they experience are the real, physical symptoms of being pregnant.
Phantom pregnancy is a fairly rare condition. While it’s not usually related to pregnancy loss, it can occur after extreme emotional stress. The manifestation of phantom kicks, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily coincide with stress.
Unfortunately, there is no clear consensus on what causes phantom kicks. There are a few different ideas, but this condition has been under-researched, like many female-specific issues. Sadly, gender bias 4 in research is still a common issue that needs to be fixed.
While no one has an exact answer on what is causing those phantom kicks, there is anecdotal evidence that has led medical professionals to some hypotheses. If you experience this condition, it may be caused by one of these or a combination of these factors:
When you are pregnant, your organs move around 5 to make room for your growing baby. Your bladder is pressed down. Your stomach moves up and rotates. Your intestines are being compressed by your uterus as early as nine weeks. By the end of 40 weeks, your stomach and intestines are pushing on your liver and lungs. All this movement is completely natural and very necessary to grow a baby inside of you.
After birth, your body slowly starts the process of returning your organs to their rightful place—or at least close to it. While your organs are on the move after birth, you may feel certain sensations. These changes didn’t happen overnight to begin with, and it takes your body a little bit of time to get back to its new normal. This organ migration may be one cause of kick-like sensations during your first year postpartum .
Heightened awareness of feelings in your body
During pregnancy, you become very tuned into your body. You are probably noticing every little movement, usually waiting for that first kick or hiccup. As pregnancy progresses, you are also on high alert to notice any signs of labor. It’s hard to turn off this heightened awareness right after you give birth, and the lingering awareness may be the cause of phantom kicks.
After pregnancy, your body shifts and moves around. Gastrointestinal movement is the sensation you will feel the most. While before pregnancy you probably didn’t notice what was happening in your abdomen very often, you may be tuned in to every little gurgle postpartum. A simple bout of gas or the regular contractions your intestines experience to help move food through your system can make your brain trigger the memory of a kick. It doesn’t help that gas and bloating are very common after pregnancy and can be the cause of early phantom kicks.
Some women are even conscious of movement or popping feelings when they ovulate or during their period, something they may have not noticed before being pregnant. All of these movements can mimic the feeling of phantom kicks.
Nerve and muscle memory
Another theory is that phantom kicks may be a similar sensation to that felt by someone who has nerve and muscle memory after losing a limb. If someone loses an arm, for instance, they may feel different sensations where that arm once was even though it’s no longer there.
When you experience new sensations like a baby kicking in your belly, it’s such a specific feeling, unlike anything you have ever felt before. While pregnant, you are intensely attuned to all of your baby’s movements and kicks. This may create muscle and nerve memory, which results in phantom kicks long after your baby has vacated the premises.
Endometriosis 6 is a condition that causes the tissue that normally lines the uterus to grow on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or intestines. This condition can cause extremely uncomfortable and irregular periods. Research shows it affects anywhere from 10-15% of reproductive-aged females.
While endometriosis is not a proven cause of phantom kicks, many women who suffer from endometriosis report a feeling of movement in the abdomen, much like fetal kicks. If you suspect endometriosis may be the cause of your phantom kicks, schedule an appointment with your doctor. They can do certain tests to evaluate your situation, including a pelvic exam, ultrasound, MRI, or laparoscopy.
Phantom kicks can also be experienced after miscarriage or pregnancy loss. While the loss may not be a direct cause of this phenomenon, it is good to know that what you are feeling is normal.
While there is nothing to worry about physically when experiencing phantom kicks, if it is affecting your mental health and your grieving process, talk to your doctor about things you can do. They may recommend going to therapy to help you through your experience and lessen the emotional toll of phantom kicks.
With the lack of research surrounding this subject, there is also a lack of understanding about what is a normal amount of phantom kicks to feel. What we do have is anecdotal evidence.
Some women report feeling phantom kicks every once in a while. Some feel them more regularly—like once a week—while others feel them multiple times a day.
While phantom kicks are not harmful, if they’re bothering you or keeping you from your normal life, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor, especially if your mental health is being negatively affected.
For some, phantom kicks can be a cause of frustration since they are unpredictable in both when they appear and how long they last. For others, they can be a comforting feeling, bringing up good memories of pregnancy.
Depending on how you feel, you may wish to get rid of phantom kicks as soon as possible. The first step to treating them is to figure out which of the possible causes may be at the root of your case. Once you’ve narrowed it down, reach out to a specialist who can help with your particular triggers.
While there is no research that directly links meditation to phantom kicks, there is research showing meditation relaxes the muscles throughout the body. If the feeling of kicking is caused by muscle and nerve memory or even a heightened awareness of the body, meditation may help relax your abdominal muscles, reducing the feelings altogether.
Additionally, meditation 7 can help you with any negative emotions you have surrounding phantom kicks and mental health.
Regardless of why the phantom kicks have appeared, the most important thing to remember is that the sensation is incredibly normal, that your feelings about them are valid, and that it is easy to treat this phenomenon as soon as you get to the root of the issue.
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Parasar, P., Ozcan, P., and Terry, K. L. . " Endometriosis: Epidemiology, Diagnosis and Clinical Management " , Current obstetrics and gynecology reports , vol. 6 , no. 1 , Mar 1, 2018 , pp. 34–41 , https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5737931/ .
McGee M. . " Meditation and psychiatry " , Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)) , vol. 50 , no. 1 , Jan 1, 2008 , pp. 28–41 , https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2719544/ .
Expectful writers and editors are experts in health & wellness during fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum.
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Phantom Pregnancy: Is It a Reality?
Pseudocyesis or false pregnancy is when a person believes that she is pregnant but not in real. It is also known as phantom pregnancy. A person with pseudocyesis has pregnancy symptoms and feels she is pregnant.
However, pregnancy tests and ultrasounds proves that they aren’t physically pregnant, and no fetus is growing in their uterus Pseudocyesis is a rare condition where the healthcare providers believe psychological and hormonal factors plays a major role in this condition.
How common is phantom pregnancy?
Pseudocyesis condition are between 5-6 cases per 22,000 births. Most of these cases occur in patients between the age group 16 and 40 years. False pregnancy was more commonly seen before reliable pregnancy tests.
How it differs from real pregnancy?
The presence of fetus differentiates false pregnancy and real pregnancy. A person with pseudocyesis may feel pregnant and also have signs of pregnancy, but a pregnancy test, blood test or ultrasound will show they aren’t pregnant.
What can you see in phantom pregnancy?
Symptoms of pseudocyesis are similar to actual pregnancy because a person believes that they are pregnant or has a condition causing pregnancy symptoms. For example, some people will report that they have feeling of movement in their uterus.
Common symptoms & signs of false pregnancy:
- Tenderness of breast
- Enlarged abdomen.
- Missed periods
- Weight gain.
- Morning sickness or nausea.
- Cravings or aversions of food
- False contractions in labor
Medical experts aren’t sure what causes pseudocyesis but thinks that psychological and hormonal factors may contribute. This is a somatic symptom disorder or when a person has physical symptoms of a condition without any medical explanation.
What leads to a false pregnancy?
The conditions where a person may develop pseudocyesis are:
- Strong desire to become pregnant.
- Multiple abortion
- Loss of a child.
- Extreme fear of becoming pregnant.
- depression or anxiety.
- Emotional trauma.
- Sexual abuse.
Psychological factors play a role:
The mind-body connection is so powerful. Physicians believe that the urge to become pregnant is the most common cause of pseudocyesis.
If people have a strong desire to become pregnant, their body helps them believe they are pregnant. Mental conditions like depression from infertility or abortion can be a risk factor for false pregnancy.
- Overwhelming desire or fear of pregnancy
- Loss of fertility or reproductive capacity
- Mental/physical trauma
- Psychiatric conditions
- Anti psychotic drugs
Hormonal changes implicated:
Pathological conditions like uterine tumors, cancer can cause changes in a person’s hormone levels. Hormonal changes can cause pregnancy symptoms like missed periods, fatigue or weight gain.
Physicians has the responsibility to rule out these medical conditions before diagnosing pseudocyesis. A strong desire for becoming pregnant may impact more on hormones directly and cause pregnancy symptoms.
How to find out this condition?
Doctors will perform a pelvic examination, ultrasound, urine or blood test to check for pregnancy. If a false pregnancy has occurred, these tests will become negative and confirm that conception did not occur and the person isn’t pregnant.
People with this condition will be upset, disappointed and in disbelief that there is no fetus. An ultrasound is the best option for clearing out a person with pseudocyesis that they aren’t pregnant because it’s the most visual diagnostic test for pregnancy.
Some health conditions have the same symptoms that of pregnancy like a rare form of cancer which has the ability to secrete pregnancy hormones. Healthcare providers performs additional tests to rule out health conditions that may be a cause of pregnancy symptoms.
Features that help diagnosis :
- To rule out viable pregnancy (pelvic exam, blood and urine test ,ultrasound)
- Differential diagnosis (hyperprolactinemia, hormone secreting tumors, constipation, gallstones, delusions of pregnancy)
How to manage this situation ?
Treatment such as psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy help.
- Psychotherapy and counselling are the efficient treatment when individuals have difficulty in coming to terms with their false pregnancy, or remain symptomatic even after knowing their false diagnosis.
- It helps patients to confront the reality and accept the symptoms as illusions and provides an opportunity to solve other psychological stressors and trauma that may be responsible in manifestations of false pregnancy.
- There is no direct evidence for treating false pregnancy with pharmacotherapy, but medications help to restore hormonal and neurotransmitter imbalances which are implicated in physical manifestations of false pregnancy.
- Reduced levels of catecholamine have been observed in people with symptoms such as hyperprolactinemia and abdominal distention.
- For most of people, psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy (with antidepressants or antipsychotics), hormonal therapy, and uterine tissue removal are adequate to treat the condition.
- Antipsychotics have been found to increase the lactation and amenorrhea and can trigger delusions. delusions are resolvable with medication changes or adjustments.
- Gallstones, abdominal tumors, hyperprolactinemia are the medical conditions which has been identified and treated may reduce the severity of the delusion.
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Do You Have Irregular Periods? Here’s How To Recognize Pregnancy Symptoms
You can’t rely on a missed period, but there are other ways to tell you might be pregnant.
- What Are Irregular Periods?
- Causes of Irregular Periods
- Why Irregular Periods Can Impact Getting Pregnant
Signs of Pregnancy With Irregular Periods
What to do about irregular periods if you want to get pregnant.
If you have regular menstrual cycles, one of the first signs you may be expecting a baby is a missed period. Since people with 28-day menstrual cycles typically get their period about 14 days after ovulation, a period that doesn’t show up when expected could mean it’s time to take an at-home pregnancy test .
But what if your menstrual cycle isn’t regular? As many as 25% people of childbearing age have cycles that fall outside of the normal range, and that can make it pretty difficult to use the arrival of your period as a benchmark for possible pregnancy. Here’s what to know about recognizing pregnancy when you have irregular periods.
What Are Irregular Periods?
Irregular periods are defined by several different characteristics, but typically relate to how often you get a period and the severity of your symptoms.
You might have irregular periods if you:
- Go less than 21 days or more than 35 days between cycles
- Have a lot of variability between lengths of cycles
- Have periods that last longer than seven days
- Skip several periods at a time
Many with irregular periods may also experience:
- Heavy bleeding that soaks through a pad or tampon more than once per hour
- Extreme pain or cramping, especially if it affects your quality of life
- Feel dizzy, weak, or lightheaded during or after your period
- Pass blood clots larger than a quarter during your menstruation
Terms About Your Period To Know
Keep in mind, an irregular period relates to duration, timing, and absence. Abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB) usually describes issues with flow amount. Breakthrough bleeding (BTB)—aka metrorrhagia—refers to bleeding in between cycles, while menorrhagia refers to heavy and/or lengthy bleeding, and menometrorrhagia refers to both.
Causes of Irregular Periods
Maybe you’ve always had irregular periods, or maybe it’s a new thing—either way, there are various reasons why your period may be irregular. But keep in mind, it's not unusual to experience cycle changes from time to time. For example, sickness, stress, and travel can throw off your cycle temporarily. You might also have irregular periods for a while after giving birth or nursing, or even after stopping birth control.
“If you skip one period, first make sure you are not pregnant and then wait to see if you have a period next month," says Suzanne Bovone, MD, OB-GYN at Pediatrix Medical Group in San Jose, California.
If you skip two months, then you should make an appointment to talk with your health care provider, says Dr. Bovone. Similarly, if your periods suddenly become much heavier or last longer than usual, that’s also a sign that you should talk with your provider. You could have a new health condition, a uterine growth, or a hormonal imbalance.
Other causes of irregular periods include:
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome . Those with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) don’t ovulate monthly, so they often go long periods of time between menstrual cycles as well. PCOS can also cause heavy bleeding when periods do occur.
- Weight changes . Gaining or losing a significant amount of weight can cause sudden changes to your menstrual cycle, Dr. Bovone says. Eating disorders can also disrupt normal menstruation.
- Stress . Chronic stress—like from a difficult job or family situation, for example—can cause irregularity. Significant acute stress, such as a loss, move, or devastating event, may also cause irregularity.
- Excessive exercise . Whether you’re an athlete that trains daily or someone who’s just taken up a more intense exercise regime than you’re used to, extreme amounts of exercise can cause your period to become irregular and may be a sign that you need to slow down.
- Certain medications . Dr. Bovone says some medications and over-the-counter (OTC) supplements can change your cycle or cause spotting. Common culprits include blood thinners, anti-anxiety medications, and anti-epileptic medications.
- Certain health conditions . Monte Swarup, MD, OB-GYN in Chandler, Arizona and founder of HPV Hub, says thyroid and pituitary gland disorders can cause irregular periods, as can bleeding disorders (like hemophilia and von Willebrand disease).
- Uterine abnormalities . Polyps and fibroids are two different types of benign growths that can occur in the uterus. They can both cause abnormal bleeding patterns and interfere with ovulation.
Why Irregular Periods Can Impact Getting Pregnant
Whether you’re hoping to become pregnant or not, it’s important to find out why your periods are irregular. Abnormal menstrual cycles usually point to a larger issue unless you’re nursing or going through menopause, so if you’ve noticed an irregular pattern, you should make an appointment with your health care provider.
If you are trying to get pregnant, it’s even more important to see a provider about your irregular periods because you may or may not be ovulating. Ovulation is a critical step in the process (it’s when your ovary releases an egg to be fertilized), so if you’re not ovulating at all, you won’t be able to get pregnant. Your health care provider can help you determine if you are having ovulatory or anovulatory cycles and make recommendations with that information.
Even if you’re ovulating, explains Dr. Bovone, irregular cycles can make it hard to figure out exactly when you are. Getting the timing right, aka pinpointing your fertile window , is also important to successfully getting pregnant.
Though you can’t depend as reliably on a missed period as a sign of pregnancy, there are other signs you can look for if you’re waiting to take an at-home pregnancy test .
- Feeling sick (Robert Atlas, MD, OB-GYN and chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, says about 70% of people will have nausea and occasional vomiting at the start of pregnancy. )
- Excessive tiredness
- Breast changes like swelling and tenderness (But Dr. Atlas cautions that can also happen just before you get your period, so consider breast changes along with other signs and symptoms.)
- Light spotting
- Sudden cravings for or aversions to food
- Mood swings
- More frequent urge to pee
Some of your approach to getting pregnant with irregular periods will depend on why they’re irregular. If you’re ovulating but have longer than average cycles, your strategy may be different than someone who isn’t ovulating at all.
In general, though, there are some best practices to getting pregnant with irregular periods. Dr. Swarup says it’s important to eat nutritious foods and get plenty of exercise. If you're having sex to get pregnant, you'll also want to have regular intercouse in order to improve your chances.
You may also want to consider using some technological tools to keep tabs on your cycle and make it easier to figure out when you’re ovulating. Since you’re the most fertile right before you ovulate, says Dr. Bovone, it helps if you’re tracking your entire menstrual cycle from beginning to end.
She suggests using a period tracking app to better understand your cycle length. For those with regular, 28-day periods, ovulation would normally happen between days 10 and 15 of the menstrual cycle, but if your periods are irregular, you can’t rely on that. An app, such as the FDA-cleared Natural Cycles, can show you a clear picture of what your cycle length looks like overall.
Dr. Bovone also recommends adding OTC ovulation detection kits to your monthly cycle. These provide a way to double-check your period tracking. “Once you get a period, you can count back 14 days and see if your ovulation testing is matching what the calendar predicted,” she explains. They also can help you time your sex for conception if you use them regularly throughout your cycle. They may also inform you if you’re having anovulatory cycles.
The bottom line, though, is that if you have irregular periods and want to get pregnant, it’s a good idea to receive a full workup from your health care provider rather than trying to navigate conception all on your own.
“A thorough history, physical, lab testing, and ultrasound will be done to determine a reason [for your irregular periods],” says Dr. Bovone. “Sometimes a reason is not found, but fortunately, infertility doctors are able to assist patients in achieving their pregnancy goals.”
What are menstrual irregularities? NIH. 2017.
Irregular periods . NHS. 2022.
The Menstrual Disturbances in Endocrine Disorders: A Narrative Review . Int J Endocrinol Metab . 2020.
Heavy and Abnormal Periods . ACOG. 2022.
Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy . Gastroenterol Clin North Am . 2013.
FDA allows marketing of first direct-to-consumer app for contraceptive use to prevent pregnancy . FDA. 2018.
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You're not seeing things —'nudity creep' in streaming TV reveals more of its stars
Jonathan Sadowski, left, and Mike Vogel in Netflix's softcore hit Sex/Life . Netflix hide caption
Jonathan Sadowski, left, and Mike Vogel in Netflix's softcore hit Sex/Life .
Call it "nudity creep."
One of the most popular shows on one of the most popular streaming services is called Naked Attraction . It's a fully, completely naked dating show. Even for Max — the streaming platform that used to be HBO — the nudity is a lot. The British show (which Max acquired from Channel 4) does not blur or censor anything. In fact, there are close-ups.
Here's the gimmick: One contestant faces six boxes that contain six naked people. Bit by bit, their bodies are revealed, starting from the bottom. The contestant eliminates possible future dating partners based on the body parts they see.
"They are showing full male frontal nudity, and that's maybe what's catching a few breaths," says Jeffrey P. Jones, a professor at the University of Georgia .
Vienna museums' social media posts got rejected for nudity, so they're on OnlyFans
Jones authored a book about the history of HBO. He's also executive director of the Peabody Awards , which awards excellence in media. Jones is too polite to say so, but it seems unlikely Naked Attraction will win. This is, after all, a dating show based on people assessing each other's junk.
But if you are outraged that HBO — the home of such prestigious dramas as The Sopranos and The Wire — has stooped so low, Jones would like to remind you that starting in the 1990s, HBO also aired programs such as Real Sex and Taxicab Confessions .
"It's sister network, let's not forget, was called Cinemax, e.g. 'Skin-emax,'" he says of the cable channel known for airing uncensored movies starting in the 1980s. "So viewers very much subscribed to this channel precisely because of non-regulation in these areas."
Cable television has always enjoyed less regulation than broadcast, and streaming TV is not regulated for decency by the Federal Communications Commission . From the beginning, Jones says people have subscribed to platforms such as Netflix because of provocative dramas that centered female flesh. Think of House of Cards and Orange is the New Black . Now, what feminists call "the male gaze" seems to have expanded — to include men.
A Florida principal who was fired after showing students 'David' is welcomed in Italy
A Netflix show called Sex/Life allegedly pulled in more than 20 million views in 2021, because of just one graphic scene of male nudity. People gleefully skipped to that scene and recorded themselves watching as a viral challenge on TikTok .
"This is marketing that happens without the HBO or Netflix marketing departments," Jones observes. And that's critical, he points out, given intense competition for eyeballs and subscribers. But if nudity is a gimmick that gets them — what happens when nudity gets old?
"People will never get tired of nudity," Jones says. "It's on frescoes all through Europe. Nudity is with us forever. Frankly, it's a central part of who and what we are as humans, and we're going to tell stories about it."
Edited for the web by Rose Friedman. Produced for the web by Beth Novey.
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Britney Spears Reveals She Had an Abortion Because Justin Timberlake 'Didn't Want to Be a Father' (Exclusive)
The pop icon will release her memoir, The Woman in Me, on Oct. 24
Britney Spears is sharing a painful experience she's kept private for 20 years.
In her upcoming memoir The Woman in Me , the pop icon reveals that when she dated Justin Timberlake, she became pregnant with his baby but had an abortion, PEOPLE confirms.
“It was a surprise, but for me, it wasn’t a tragedy. I loved Justin so much. I always expected us to have a family together one day. This would just be much earlier than I’d anticipated,” Spears, now 41, writes of the pregnancy in the book. “But Justin definitely wasn’t happy about the pregnancy. He said we weren’t ready to have a baby in our lives, that we were way too young."
A rep for Timberlake did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty
She writes in the book: "If it had been left up to me alone, I never would have done it. And yet Justin was so sure that he didn’t want to be a father."
Spears writes of her experience undergoing the abortion: “To this day, it’s one of the most agonizing things I have ever experienced in my life."
After Spears and Timberlake split in 2002, she went on to become a mother, welcoming two sons — Sean Preston , 18, and Jayden James, 17 — with her second husband, Kevin Federline .
Spears will release her much-anticipated memoir on Oct. 24, through Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
The memoir comes nearly two years after Spears was released from her court-ordered conservatorship, which had been in place for 13 years. The conservatorship was terminated in November 2021 after Spears gave fervent public testimony in court in June 2021.
Promising to reveal “for the first time her incredible journey (and) strength at the core of one of the greatest performers in pop music history,” according to a press release from Gallery Books, the singer’s memoir “illuminates the enduring power of music and love — and the importance of a woman telling her own story, on her own terms.”
For an exclusive excerpt and interview with Britney Spears, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.
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7 Deals on Wirecutter’s Favorite Lego Sets
There’s nothing quite like the click of Lego pieces when they snap together, or the sight of multicolored, knobby bricks spilling onto the floor, ripe with possibility. In recent years, Lego offerings have become even more varied, including elegant bouquets and museum-worthy memorabilia from your favorite movie franchise. Whether you’re giving someone their first Lego set or you’re a longtime AFOL scoring savings on the latest Lego drop, here are seven Lego deals that are worth your time.
Here’s the deal
Lego star wars advent calendar 75366, lego architecture great pyramid of giza 21058, lego marvel avengers advent calendar 76267, lego disney princess moana’s wayfinding boat 43210, lego creator 3in1 cozy house 31139, lego friends advent calendar 41758, lego friends liann’s room 41739.
An Advent calendar from a galaxy far, far away
This seasonal calendar features nine popular character minifigs to go with 15 other festive mini builds (including a droid dressed as a reindeer). Every day offers a different surprise.
You save $4 (9%)
Other things to know: Recommended for ages 6 and up. 320-piece set. Instructions are printed on the backs of each little door. Popular sets like this one can often sell out.
Read our review of our favorite Advent calendars .
A 1,476-brick masterpiece
This adult Lego set pick is sure to be the Seventh Wonder of one’s collection. The pyramid's exterior shell can be removed to reveal the method by which many archaeologists believe the pyramids were built. And it’s easy to place against a wall.
You save $15 (12%)
Other things to know: Recommended for ages 18 and up. 1,476-piece set. The set creates only half a pyramid. Lego suggests buying a second set to create a full pyramid
Read our review of the best Lego sets for adults, according to our staff.
A Marvel-themed Lego calendar countdown
Marvel and Lego fans assemble! This 24-day countdown includes seven collectible superhero minifigs from across the Marvel multiverse, as well as holiday mini builds and accessories (even a tiny, sweater-sporting Spiderman!).
You save $6 (13%)
Other things to know: Recommended for ages 7 and up. 243-piece set. A rare deal before the holiday season.
A Disney-themed Lego sea adventure
This fairly small set is a rare value for a Disney-themed build. Set includes mini-dolls of Moana and her mom, Sina, as well as an adorable dolphin. The set can be challenging but ultimately rewarding.
You save $5 (15%)
Other things to know: Recommended for ages 6 and up. 321-piece set. The instructions can be confusing.
Read our review of the best Lego sets for kids .
A very, very, very fine house
This 3-in-1 set consists of alternate build options and comes with loads of tiny details. All three designs feature hinges, and the fully enclosed houses make lovely display structures that swing open for playtime.
You save $12 (20%)
With delayed shipping
Other things to know: Recommended for ages 8 and up. 808-piece set, including three minifigs. The sheer number of smaller builds can be overwhelming, and the instructions are frustrating. New low price.
A pet-themed Lego Advent calendar
This Advent set from the Lego Friends series is all about our furry friends. Behind these doors you’ll find two mini-dolls, eight unique pet characters, and mini builds that assemble to create a festive pet playground.
You save $6 (18%)
Other things to know: Recommended for ages 6 and up. 231-piece set. Instructions are printed on the backs of each little door.
A painter’s studio-slash-bedroom
A fold-up Murphy bed in this set allows Liann plenty of room for her easels. The room features her absurdly cute pet gecko, paintings, a skateboard, and more.
You save $4 (20%)
Other things to know: The many loose pieces in this 204-piece set tend to scatter. Deal price matches low.
Editor’s note: The photo at the top of this article may reflect previous deals that are no longer valid and have been removed. Check out our Deals page for more great discounts on Wirecutter's expert-approved picks.
This article was edited by Ignacia Fulcher and Nathan Burrow.
Meet your guide
Michael B. Cohen is a staff writer for Wirecutter’s Deals team. He has also written screenplays, podcasts, and video games. When he’s not writing, he’s probably planting trees, playing Dungeons & Dragons, or talking to anyone who will listen about escheat.