Let’s go to the point: yes, couvade syndrome (also called sympathetic pregnancy), which is when a man mirrors their partner’s pregnancy symptoms, is real. And yes, some expectant fathers really do experience nausea, cravings and mood swings too, amongst other common symptoms related to pregnancy – just like pregnant women.
So what? Does it mean that they want a share of the attention? Or is it a subconscious way of supporting their partner? Well, this could certainly play a part, but it’s actually a bit more complicated than that.
What symptoms can dads-to-be experience?
In the majority of cases, couvade syndrome appears during the first trimester of pregnancy, and/or during the last few weeks before birth. It generally disappears after the baby is born.
Expectant dads can experience either physical and psychological symptoms (or both) that are similar to pregnancy symptoms. These include nausea, vomiting, leg cramps, abdominal and back pain, appetite changes, swelling, fatigue, and even alterations in their hormonal levels, in some cases. As for the psychological symptoms, men can experience anxiety, stress, mood swings, cravings, or even reduced libido.
Symptoms differ from men to men. Some will experience just a few of the above, while for others, the syndrome will manifest itself in a more serious and visible way.
Why do some men experience a sympathetic pregnancy?
Although several studies have attempted to understand a bit more about the phenomenon, we are still unsure of the origins of couvade syndrome. However, it seems that stress and empathy could be involved. In fact, with stress, the levels of hormones in the body tend to change. Men who are under lots of stress can therefore experience a decrease in their level of testosterone, which in turn, makes their estrogen levels higher. Some even show high levels of prolactin, the hormone that helps women to produce milk. And there you go: pregnancy-like symptoms appear!
Knowing how many men are experiencing these pregnancy symptoms is also quite complicated, as many only develop minor symptoms that are barely visible. On top of that, a good number of men prefer not to talk about what they are going through.
Is there a treatment for couvade syndrome?
First of all, couvade syndrome doesn’t last and is not serious. Although it’s not uncommon, there is no medicine that directly treats sympathetic pregnancy, and it’s not even considered a medical condition. Don’t worry though, solutions do exist.
Since couvade syndrome is often the result of anxiety or stress associated with their new parenting role, working on how to manage stress and preparing for their new responsibilities as a father may significantly help men to alleviate the problem.
As we know, having a baby, especially when becoming a parent for the first time, can be quite stressful. The most important thing to do, therefore, is to talk with your partner regularly about pregnancy, the baby and your future role as parents. This applies to everyone, those experiencing couvade syndrome or not. It’s essential to frequently express your feelings, whether they are worries, fears or something else entirely. Talking to other male friends or family members can also help.
It’s also essential for any future father to be fully active in the pregnancy and to feel like he is involved. Attending prenatal appointments, reading books and blogs about pregnancy or babies, purchasing baby items, decorating the nursery, participating in childbirth classes: anything that makes dad feel involved could help him to worry a little bit less. Additionally, this also happens to be a good way for men to support their partner during pregnancy!
And you, have you experienced a sympathetic pregnancy or do you know someone who did? Share your experience!