When I was pregnant with our first baby, my husband started having some all-too familiar niggles. He was excessively tired for weeks on end, felt nauseous and just generally ‘off’, he was also more hungry than usual and his belly looked bloated. When I read about some partners of pregnant women experiencing a sympathetic pregnancy, I jokingly told him this might be happening to him. Within an hour the symptoms mysteriously went away.
It turns out my husband wasn’t alone. Over 30 percent of dads-to-be experience what’s known as Couvade Syndrome during their partner’s pregnancy – and it’s very, very weird. Here’s what it is.
I’m pregnant too
Couvade Syndrome is when dads-to-be experience an involuntary manifestation of pregnancy. Also called a ‘phantom pregnancy’ or ‘sympathetic pregnancy’. Couvade Syndrome isn’t a medically recognised physical or mental disorder. It also isn’t explained by injury or illness, but it does happen according to various studies. It usually occurs in the first trimester, goes away in the second and then reappears in the third.
Guys can experience a range of physical and psychological symptoms that mimic pregnancy. The physical symptoms may include feeling nauseous (morning sickness), tired/lethargic, food cravings and aversions, tummy pains, leg cramps, bloating and back pain. In addition, he may also suffer from mood swings, early morning waking, anxiety, poor concentration, distraction, memory loss (preggy brain!) and pre-natal depression.
In a 2007 study, a group of 282 expectant fathers aged from 19 to 55 were monitored throughout their partners’ pregnancies by specialists at St George’s, University of London.
The findings were compared to a control group of 281 men whose partners were not pregnant.
They found the expectant dads had a range of ‘pregnancy-like’ symptoms such cramps, back pain, mood swings, food cravings, morning sickness, fatigue, depression, fainting, insomnia and toothache.
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Whereas the guys in the other group didn’t experience any of these symptoms.
Not to take away from you
While it may be hard to give your partner a back rub when you feel like vomiting for the third time that day, it’s important to remember that Couvade Syndrome isn’t an attention-seeking ploy. A man experiencing it can’t help it and his symptoms are as real as yours – minus the baby causing them.
What’s the cause?
The cause of this strange syndrome is unknown. Some researchers have suggested a dad-to-be’s changing hormones and anxiety levels may be a trigger.
For instance, a 1991 Canadian study found a rise in the hormones prolactin and cortisol among some men with expecting partners. They suggested this rise could produce pregnancy-like symptoms in a man, while also boosting the emotional connection he has with his pregnant partner. The findings also discovered high levels of prolactin in men during the weeks after the baby’s birth.
Or it could be brought on by something quite lovely …
The empathy theory
Then there’s the empathy theory – your man is so in touch with what you are experiencing, that he feels it too. Awww.
“I have been throwing up on alternate days to the mother of my child since the end of the first trimester up until two weeks from the due date,” said dad-to-be Andrew in an 2010 Australian study of the bizarre syndrome.
Swollen ‘baby’ bumps
As if sharing your pregnancy symptoms isn’t cute enough, some guys also sport little rounded bellies when their partner is pregnant. This may be brought on by increased appetite and can result in some additional abdominal curvature (in the case of my husband).
But it can be more than that
While a sympathetic pregnancy can just be feeling a little off when your pregnant partner does, for some guys they actually experience labour-like pains.
“My stomach pains were very much like a build-up of a woman’s contraction as she’s giving birth. They started mild and then got stronger and stronger and stronger,” said one participant in a 2007 study.
If you suspect your partner may be suffering from Couvade Syndrome, give him a foot rub and then tell him about it. You may find his symptoms go away after that.
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