Couvade Syndrome: The Sympathetic Pregnancy

While you might feel like your husband or partner just doesn’t understand how bad your morning sickness makes you feel, or how tired you really are, perhaps that’s not the case. Maybe he’s gained a little weight while you’ve been busy growing your baby, or maybe he’s craving chocolate just as much as you are?

There’s a name for this condition. It’s called Couvade Syndrome, also known as a sympathetic pregnancy, and it’s when partners of pregnant women share some of their pregnancy symptoms. It’s also been likened to a phantom pregnancy. It comes from the french word ‘couver’ meaning to hatch.

It can happen in varying degrees, with the most common symptoms being weight gain, disturbed sleep, and nausea. A University of New South Wales study recently found a shift in hormone levels of expectant fathers, although the sample size was small and further research needs to be done.

It’s said to be caused to by two issues: stress and empathy. Pregnancy can cause some families to worry – financial stress, health worries, and the significant change in circumstances from a  ‘footloose and fancy-free’ couple, to parents with responsibilities. These can all cause the expectant father to be a little stressed.

It’s also seen more in fathers where the journey to pregnancy and birth has been fraught and worrisome; and the symptoms stem from empathy. Other studies have found that those fathers who were more likely to be empathetic to what their wife was experiencing were more likely to experience symptoms of Couvade.

Other theories are based on the assumption of jealousy or envy. It has been said that expectant fathers can feel a bit left out by all the attention on his partner, and the symptom, while they feel very real, are psychosomatic.

While it is not a medical diagnosis, it is a recognised condition, but the good news is that symptoms usually disappear either spontaneously, or once the baby has been born. The number of men that experience Couvade is not known, but has been reported in some countries to be up to 50 percent.

So you might feel like he’s trying to steal your thunder, but go easy on him as his symptoms (while probably not as intense as yours) are real.

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