Delusions of pregnancy

Photo by Flickr user Martine. Click for sourceThere is a small but fascinating medical literature on delusional pregnancy that reports cases of people who, in the context of psychotic mental illness, come to believe they are expecting a child. Interestingly, the cases are not solely women of child bearing age – delusional pregnancy has also been reported in men and the elderly.

In fact, almost as many cases of delusional pregnancy have been reported in men as in women. Unfortunately, no studies have been done on how common this delusion is or what it is associated with, so it’s not clear whether men are equally as likely to have a delusions of pregnancy, or whether it’s just because these cases seem more unusual and is more likely to be published.

Below is one of the cases from a classic 1994 article on delusion of pregnancy from The British Journal of Psychiatry:

B was a 39-year-old, single, female schizophrenic patient with treatment-resistant psychotic symptoms including delusions of pregnancy of 20 years’ duration and amenorrhoea for the previous 18 years. On examination she was convinced that she had a triplet pregnancy – two boys and a girl – of four months gestational age. She reported that they moved about inside her abdomen and also talked to her.

When she was 19, her dancing partner kissed her and she believed that he had been repeatedly impregnating her by means of the same kiss. Regarding her previous pregnancies she believed that their father did not want her to deliver them and hence he ‘withdrew’ them. She did not have any physical symptoms of pregnancy other than amenorrhoea and attributed this to the ‘supernatural nature’ of the pregnancy.

In a curious twist, a recent article reported on a patient who had the delusional denial of pregnancy – where she was clearly heavily pregnant but had the delusion that she was not.

It’s important to note that these cases are not the same as ‘phantom pregnancies’, something medically named pseudocyesis, where a women can show the signs of expecting a child (swollen breasts, enlarged abdomen etc) without actually being pregnant.

This is not a delusion, as the patient can be well aware that they are not actually pregnant or will accept the possibility that they are not when the results of medical tests come though.

Indeed, ‘phantom pregnancy’ can be due to clear disturbance to the hormones – one case was due to a brain tumour that disrupted the endocrine system – but other cases seem to be related to the strong desire to be pregnant.

However, even this has its male equivalent. Couvade syndrome is where men experience some of the physical effects of pregnancy (morning sickness, aches, weight gain) in response to their partner’s pregnancy.

 

Link to classic 1994 paper on delusion of pregnancy.

5 Comments

  1. Posted March 12, 2009 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    A friend of my wife’s, a rather large woman, felt very sick at work one day and was taken to the hospital where she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. She had no idea that she had been pregnant. She worked in a newsroom, so they gave her the professional courtesy of not printing it as a ‘human interest’ story.

  2. AngelaE8654
    Posted March 13, 2009 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    I knew someone who had that happen. THIS woman wasn’t very large, either. But she went to the hospital feeling really bad and they told her that in two hours, she’d be a mother. She kept telling them that you can’t be a mother in two hours. LOL

  3. Mark(p.s.)
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    That’s no kidney stone: Mom welcomes surprise new year’s baby

    http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2009/01/07/surprise-baby.html

  4. Posted August 7, 2010 at 3:36 am | Permalink

    A friend of my wife’s ever experienced anything like this. Delusions of pregnancy, actually how early this happened?

  5. Posted June 15, 2013 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    Strange I’ve never heard of this before. I understand it would be very frightening for anyone who experiences it.

    Although I have heard of people denying they were pregnant and then the baby arrives!!


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