Sympathetic Pregnancy Symptoms In Dad

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experiencing sympathetic pregnancy symptoms

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This article delves into sympathetic pregnancy symptoms in dad. Yes, it's real! Believe it or not, dads-to-be can experience pregnancy symptoms very similar to their pregnant partners!

In fact, sympathetic pregnancy, or couvade syndrome as it is called, is fairly widespread and likely to occur in 25-52% of fathers-to-be!

So dad, don't be too surprised if you experience a few pregnancy symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, morning sickness, or strange food cravings while your partner is pregnant.

Your symptoms may not be as pronounced as a woman's but can still cause significant discomfort. So now, let's assume you're on the verge of becoming a new father; you may be wondering how on earth these symptoms can happen. 

What Is Couvade Syndrome?

Couvade draws its meaning from Breton, with "Couver," meaning to incubate, brood or hatch. Couvade syndrome expresses the idea of men experiencing similar symptoms as "hatching" that pregnant women do.

While it's a condition that has come to term recently, it's existed for centuries as a ritual in some societies where men mimic pregnancy and act out as if they were expectant.

But while this was a conscious practice to show solidarity during pregnancy, it's something that occurs today to 25-52% of "expectant" men. And many men do not even know what couvade syndrome or sympathetic pregnancy is! 

Think of couvade syndrome as a relatively common phenomenon that has no official disease or psychological condition attached to it. Rather, it is a psychosomatic response. So you may seek medical help only to find that there is nothing medically wrong with you.

Some theorists suggest that this condition results from men being envious of their spouse's ability to become pregnant. However, most psychological studies attribute the syndrome to men's sympathy for their suffering partners carrying their babies. More on this later, but we'll go with this as the main cause. 

Sympathetic Pregnancy Symptoms In Dad

Sympathetic Pregnancy Symptoms in Dad

Couvade syndrome has many associated symptoms, some a little different from conventional pregnancy signs. For most dads-to-be, these symptoms may not be taken as a clue of sympathetic pregnancy at first but can become more apparent over time. 

Most men aren't aware that they are having symptoms of couvade syndrome. So, they brush them off as mild sickness or feeling particularly unwell. Or they attribute it to physical or emotional causes such as stress.

And actually, this latter inclination may be right on target as most couvade symptoms are psychosomatic, caused by internal conflict, anxiety, or stress.

These symptoms can vary widely from individual to individual. They may also last for a few days or take weeks or even months to recede. Here are some common symptoms of couvade syndrome in men:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Nausea, heartburn, and vomiting
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Pain or distention in the abdomen
  • Appetite changes
  • Leg cramps or back pain
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Constipation
  • Frequent urination
  • Restlessness
  • Decreased desire for sex. 

How Long Do These Symptoms Last?

Couvade symptoms virtually always last only during your spouse's pregnancy and are usually intermittent. They typically begin shortly after your partner conceives, starting in the 2nd to 3rd week of your partner's 1st trimester. These symptoms may become more apparent by the day. 

Your couvade symptoms and your wife's symptoms may begin receding towards the end of the first trimester. Most men report experiencing nothing during the second trimester when women are generally at their best with the pregnancy. This 2nd trimester is often referred to as the honeymoon phase.

Often the symptoms reappear later, precisely around the 3rd trimester, just when your partner's discomfort begins to come back. Typically all pregnancy symptoms disappear after birth.

Likewise, pregnancy symptoms recede or disappear when one miscarries or terminates her pregnancy. You need to "connect" with your partner's suffering to feel couvade symptoms. This means you won't feel "pregnant" if your spouse isn't.

Causes Of Couvade Syndrome

Psychosocial

Once a couple is pregnant, people focus more on the woman and prioritize her needs since she is carrying the brunt or "burden" of the pregnancy. As a result, it's not surprising that many men feel marginalized and sometimes even isolated. 

For instance, until recently, women received the most care and long maternity leaves while men were expected to go right back to the workplace. This ancillary role subconsciously impacts men who feel they want to play a more central role during the pregnancy and beyond.

Many men want to feel more involved. Also, the idea that men can't give birth may play a role in wanting to experience the pregnancy more first-hand. Thanks to contemporary perceptions, however, men are becoming more centric and involved in pregnancy

Body Hormone Changes

body hormone changes sympathetic pregnancy

Men's body hormonal changes may sound like a cliche, but it really is more intense when their spouses are pregnant

A 2016 study suggests that hormonal changes, mainly a decrease in testosterone, occur when one becomes prepared to be a new dad.

The hormones estrogen and prolactin also play a role and vary the most during the first and third trimester, when the couvade symptoms are most pronounced. Their levels usually soar, resulting in episodes of nagging fatigue, weight gain, and appetite changes.

Also, an increase in these hormones usually results in a drastic fall in cortisol and testosterone levels, leading to low libido. However, several studies are undergoing to authenticate if, indeed, the extent to which these hormonal changes are a cause of couvade syndrome.

Somatization

Somatization is the occurrence of medical symptoms that have no known organic cause.

There's no better feeling than becoming a new parent, and most couples tend to be over the moon when they learn that they've conceived. However wonderful as that idea is, a great deal of stress generally accompanies it.

Somatization is a likely possibility when you're expecting a baby since anxiety and stress is a mind-body connection that can physically manifest itself as pregnancy symptoms.

New parents tend to worry about the birth of their child, and for men, it can be frightening that a human being will be looking to them to provide for and raise them. These new responsibilities could make these men unconsciously develop coping strategies to deal with this array of newfound emotions.

Feelings of Being Attached

While it's pretty standard and very healthy for men to get attached to their unborn babies, being overly clingy can result in couvade syndrome. But, cut yourself some slack since most dads-to-be get attached to their unborn baby

It helps if you prepare yourself for what is to come--by gaining additional control--and to realize that couvade syndrome could be around the corner.

Psychoanalysis

You have an incredibly high chance of having couvade syndrome if you have parturition envy (which develops mainly as a child) of your spouse's prowess to procreate. One conclusive theory suggests that some men feel unusually envious of their partners such that it echoes in their bodies as manifestations of pregnancy.

However, the theory doesn't relate to any particular mental health issue. Again, couvade is considered a psychosomatic rather than a specific mental disorder. 

Some theorize a perceived rivalry between the father and the fetus as the cause of the couvade syndrome. They say that fathers are subconsciously concerned that their wives' attention is directed more to their newborns. So in this case, couvade is attention seeking.

Another possibility seeks to explain the condition as a manifestation of men's uncertainty about fatherhood. This uncertainty urges them to reflect on how their fathers raised them and to imagine what kind of father they want to be. This can cause a lot of anxiety.

But again, most sympathy pregnancy can be attributed to a feeling of camaraderie and concern for the mother. 

Transitional Crisis

transitional crisis backache

If you have a baby you're hardly prepared for, experiencing couvade syndrome is more likely. It can induce tremendous stress in you as a dad-to-be. While your spouse may experience the pregnancy symptoms first-hand, you're more likely to feel the after shockwaves. 

Such a stressful situation can induce similar feelings as your pregnant partner is experiencing, including fatigue, lack of sleep, and nausea. However, this condition can also be present in prepared couples. It's just that the more prepared you are, the less likely you are to experience couvade syndrome.

Sometimes culture plays a part in the occurrence of couvade syndrome. A 2018 study found that this syndrome is more prevalent in some geographical settings.

For instance, the study concluded that areas in Poland have a high couvade syndrome prevalence compared to the rest of the world.

The argument is that dating and marriage cultures are the precursors, and men in clingier relationships tend to be incredibly sympathetic to their pregnant partners. That makes them more susceptible to couvade syndrome. 

How Do You Know If Couvade Syndrome is Overwhelming You?

While you may be aware of this condition and perhaps sure of "having" it, it helps to assess your symptoms to determine if they're getting in the way of your life.

Sometimes, couvade symptoms can feel too gripping and become a nuisance, impeding your daily activity. However, these symptoms should generally be milder than your partner's.

A typical tell-tale sign that couvade syndrome has gone over the edge is when you experience extreme anxiety levels. That can be crippling, impeding your ability to take on your everyday activities easily.

So, if the discomfort becomes too much, please have an open conversation with your health provider so that they can talk about any underlying issues.

Treating Couvade Syndrome

You can never guarantee to eliminate pregnancy sympathy symptoms, but a little effort to counter them can give you some relief. 

The treatment for couvade syndrome is by being primarily proactive rather than reactive. Therefore, as you plan to become a new father, it helps to do your due diligence on what to expect during the pregnancy and what to expect of yourself.

Prepare Yourself Mentally And Physically

Being proactive about pregnancy puts you in the right frame of mind. Couvade syndrome only becomes incredibly gripping when it swarms you while unprepared for the changes and expectations of being a new dad.

The more control and knowledge you have over your pregnancy situation, the less apt it is for you to experience couvade symptoms.

So get busy. Read pregnancy books. We review some good ones here. Read about the nine months of pregnancy. Get some toys for your newborn to play with, attend a fatherhood class, and baby-proof your home. Help attend to your wife's emotional needs (and part 2 of the same article) as well.

Staying busy and making progress with baby-related activities is the #1 thing you can do to calm couvade symptoms. It will shift your energy and allow you to be more positive about your situation.

It will also help to talk with your partner about the pregnancy and lay bare your plans, thoughts, and concerns. The more you are on the same page, the better it will be all around.

Plan Ahead

You don't want a pregnancy to catch you by surprise. If you are not pregnant yet, it will help if you have a contingency plan to help you navigate your way through.

If, as a couple, you are pregnant, whether or not you have couvade symptoms, you can capitalize on your happiness and turn your mind off from anxiety by preparing for your baby's arrival.

Talk to a Friend

talk to a friend about sympathetic pregnancy

An experienced friend who has previously had couvade symptoms can offer sage advice to help you manage this syndrome. They can share their pregnancy experience and tell you what to expect when couvade syndrome shows up. A close relative may also help you with advice on coping with this situation.

You can also talk to a therapist, even though this syndrome isn't a psychological disorder. But, you may leverage their knowledge of what may help your symptoms. However, sympathetic pregnancy symptoms have no known medical treatment.

Take Some Time Out For Yourself

If you have couvade symptoms, there's a good chance you're under a lot of pressure. Take some time to relax, see a friend or enjoy a hobby. Continue to eat well, get exercise, and get ample sleep.

Meditate

Meditation can be your second best bet (getting busy is #1) in dealing with the symptoms of couvade syndrome. This method can be more important if the condition is severe and you're overly anxious.

If feasible, take a few minutes of your day, perhaps early morning or evening, to calm your mind. Or try calming your mind whenever you get unsettled, by finding somewhere quiet and meditating.

There are many types of meditation, and they are all good:

  • Mindfulness
  • Mantra
  • Visualization
  • Focused
  • Guided meditation and others

I would visit YouTube for instructions if you've never meditated before.

Conclusion

Couvade syndrome manifests as authentic pregnancy symptoms in men and, in the worst cases, can be as debilitating as it is for women (although it's usually not as bad).

Pregnancy sympathy is like a new idea coming out of the shadows, going back to a practice of people who imitated labor in solidarity with their wives. It helps to get your head around the idea that you can feel "pregnant" and have pregnancy symptoms like your partner.

The more you know about pregnancy and the more prepared you are, the better. If you're about to become a new dad, then congratulations! And hopefully, this article has been of help.

About the author 

Dan Sperling

I'm the proud father of two great children. They are grown up now, and although I would have preferred to be a stay-at-home dad, I had to work. Luckily, I could work out of my home so I was around a lot. I ran a video production company, had a couple of great guys working with me and it allowed me to be around the children a lot. I was the "fun guy" for my kids and fathering was something I just took to.
When my daughter became pregnant, I was glad to see my son-in-law was doing everything right--or as good as it gets--we're always winging it, right? It got me thinking that so many dads would like to be more emotionally involved and knowledgeable when it comes to their wives' pregnancy and the first year of their children's lives.

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