Believe it or not, some men say they physically experience pregnancy symptoms right along with their expecting partner. This condition is so prevalent, in fact, that it has been given the name, Couvade Syndrome, or Male Sympathetic Pregnancy.
By definition, Couvade Syndrome is “The biological, psychological, and social impact of pregnancy on the expectant father.”
Amazing as this phenomenon may seem, medical professionals believe it is a reality. Somewhere between 80% – 90% of expecting fathers apparently experience Couvade Syndrome to some extent and at some point during their partners’ pregnancy. Rest assured, though, even though you may think the expecting dad in your life is nuts (or at the very least trying to steal your thunder and get some attention), you don’t have to ship him off to the psych ward just yet. The Mayo Clinic states that “While some research suggests that couvade might be common, it isn’t a recognized mental illness or disease.”
So let’s talk about what causes these sympathetic pregnancy symptoms, which seem to be the most common, and how expecting dads (and moms) can deal with them.
What Causes Couvade Syndrome?
First of all, no one is exactly sure what actually causes men to experience their pregnancy symptoms but some of the main contributors are believed to be anxiety manifesting as physical symptoms, pre-existing empathetic and sympathetic characteristics in the father-to-be, and hormonal changes some expecting dads experience during their partners’ pregnancy.
Here are just fifteen of the delightful symptoms men afflicted with Couvade may have to endure:
That’s right ladies if you suffer from morning sickness during pregnancy you may have to give up your claim to the ginger ale and saltines. Your hubby may also be one of the lucky ones afflicted with this tremendous pregnancy symptom. Lucky him. There have been reports of some couples being thankful that they can share the challenges of morning sickness together. For instance, while getting sick they find solace in knowing that someone else is as miserable and uncomfortable as they are. Generally speaking, being sick anytime is just awful so the upside for everyone is that Couvade Syndrome symptoms often mimic those of their pregnant partners – the upside is that chances are when mom’s nausea dies down so will dad’s. Praying to the porcelain god is one of the worst symptoms associated with pregnancy and let’s face it – we’d all much rather have someone holding our hair rather than dashing for another bathroom.
14 Weight Gain
Every pregnant woman has done the math… sometimes as they reach for their third Milano cookie.
At the end of the pregnancy, the baby will be around 7.5 pounds, the placenta will weigh 1.5 pounds, increased fluids account for about 4 pounds, your uterus weighs an additional 2 pounds, increased breast tissue adds another 2 pounds, you have more blood now so that weighs another 4 pounds, 2 pounds for amniotic fluid and of course you need at least 7 pounds of increased fat stores. All this weight adds up to an additional 30 pounds for mama.
Amazingly, expecting dads often gain weight during their partners’ pregnancy too and while it can be from the urge to snack a bit more, it’s not always from indulging in that extra donut. Some men actually experience swelling of their hands, feet, and ankles that mimics that of their expecting partner and, as a result gain a few pounds of water weight.
Heartburn. One of the cruelest plagues nature bestows upon pregnant women. During pregnancy, the placenta produces the hormone progesterone. Thanks to progesterone the smooth muscles of the uterus can relax and the sweet little angel we are nourishing inside of us can grow and move. It turns out though that while progesterone may be a miraculous part of pregnancy, it is not discerning and pretty much wreaks havoc on much of a woman’s body as it so dutifully does the job it is supposed to do. It turns out that progesterone also relaxes the valve between the stomach and the esophagus so that acid from your stomach can creep it’s way back up like some kind of devilish creature from a horror movie. This is what causes the burning sensation that torments us.
Unfortunately for the man in your life suffering from Couvade Syndrome there is no clear explanation as to why he is afflicted with the burn, too. Just pass him the TUMS and tell him everything will be okay.
12 Mood Swings
It’s a big joke to most people that pregnancy is one big roller coaster of emotion for the expecting mother. One minute you’re up and the next you’re down. Certain things, that no one else seems to find funny, strike pregnant women as hilarious. Other times it seems a pregnant woman will cry at the drop of a hat. There really is no telling what will trigger any kind of reaction for a pregnant woman. Most of the time she is surprised by her own reactions. What is too often overlooked is that pregnancy is a scary and hilarious time for expectant fathers as well.
Men who report having mood swings during their partner’s pregnancy are in full-fledged Couvade Syndrome territory. Usually level headed and direct expecting fathers can sometimes suddenly find themselves thrown into a sea of emotion without understanding why or knowing what to do. The only advice to help the man dealing with this situation is to be a little forgiving of themselves. Mood swings are often referred to as a roller coaster ride because that’s all you can do as they are happening – ride along with them and at the end, make sure everyone is okay, then laugh it off as much as you can.
11 Change In Appetite
Throughout pregnancy, women often feel ravenous and their appetites grow far beyond what they would normally eat. This increase usually occurs sometime in the second trimester and is attributed to the demanding needs of the growing baby. Women are encouraged to stay within the recommended weight gain guidelines based on their pre-pregnancy weight.
Alternately, thanks to yet another glorious pregnancy hormone, HCG, women can experience periods of decreased appetite. On some level this feels great because when you are pregnant, days when you are not very hungry somehow falsely translate into meaning you can completely pig out on other days.
Whether your appetite as a pregnant woman has increased or decreased, there are many resources available to you to help you either watch your weight or develop a healthy eating plan to help you pack on the necessary pounds. However, there are really no resources for the men who are gaining or losing weight in time with their expecting partner.
10 Itchy Skin
It’s pretty normal to feel itchy during pregnancy. Your skin is stretching. Hormones are raging through your pregnant body at lightning speed. Unless the itchiness is extreme and occurs from the middle to end of the pregnancy, there is really no cause for alarm about itchy skin.
If hubby is also feeling the scratchies, there are a few ways you can both try to sooth what ails you: try not to over dry your skin – this will make the itching worse. This means that you should avoid hot showers and baths, use unscented soaps and dry yourself completely after each wash – no rushing out the door for either of you anymore! He needs to take his time, as do you, and make sure you both treat your bodies well when you’re soaking in the tub so that you’re comfortable when you’re dry.
No one likes it. No one wants to talk about it. The fact remains that diarrhea happens. It can happen when you are pregnant and, unfortunately, if you suffer from Couvade Syndrome, it can happen to you when your partner is pregnant.
Diarrhea in pregnancy can happen for a few reasons, whether there are changes in diet, hormone changes that cause your digestion to move at a quicker rate, unusual reactions to food (something that did not bother you prior to pregnancy might suddenly send you running to the bathroom during pregnancy), and sometimes prenatal vitamins can have an adverse effect, too.
Constipation is another issue that pregnant women have to deal with on a, well, regular basis… pun intended. Again, dietary changes, hormones (progesterone is once again the culprit here), and changes in the way pregnant bodies react to certain foods, all contribute to not being able to keep up with a routine when it comes to getting rid of waste.
If your man is suffering from this affliction, give him the same advice that pregnant women everywhere are given: drink lots of water and eat more fiber. When he rolls his eyes tell him again in a pleasantly matter-of-fact tone (just like all of the websites and your doctors pleasantly tell you), “Just eat more fiber and you will feel better!” When he protests and says that he can’t possibly have any more salad, or eating beans is the absolute last thing he wants to do, simply tell him again, “Drink 10 glasses of water and then just eat the damn fiber.”
There is an old wives tale that a woman will lose a tooth for every child she has. Now, this generally used to be the case when dental care and upkeep was less prevalent and people would have pre-existing dental conditions that were never properly taken care of prior to pregnancy. At the time, it often resulted in the loss of one or more teeth. Now a-days, most people get a dental exam or at least brush their teeth regularly so this is less of a concern.
However, there are a few reasons why women will get toothaches during pregnancy: those godforsaken hormones – they jack up women’s entire bodies, and teeth also can be adversely affected. Diet changes are also a factor – hitting the sweets more often can hurt more than just your waistline, your teeth may suffer, too. Of course, beloved morning sickness – depending on how much time you’re spending with your head in the toilet, you might find yourself with an aching tooth as a result.
If your man has his own pregnancy toothache give him some good advice: go to the dentist. Even if his tooth pain is a result of his own morning sickness or changes to his diet or hormone levels, he still is better off than you – he can just go to the dentist and get it fixed. He doesn’t have to worry about x-rays or sedation potentially harming his unborn baby.
Yowch, headaches are terrible. Everyone gets them and often times women get serious ones that can knock them down for the count during their monthly cycles. Pregnancy headaches, however, are the mother of all headaches because the pain relievers expectant mothers are able to take are limited.
Your house could be a very quiet one if you are both dealing with this terrible affliction at the same time. If your guy is dealing with this monster symptom hand him a cold compress and some Advil. You could be suffering at the same time but at least he can get some over the counter relief.
Some men take pride in trying to experience what their expecting partner is going through. If he wants to really feel what you are feeling, then you could smack him on the forehead and then pass him a glass of water. Hormones or dehydration could be the culprit for pregnancy headaches so chugging water is really the only recourse a pregnant woman suffering from headaches has.
Pregnancy insomnia is like a curse. Your body is so exhausted but you can’t seem to sleep. You have pregnancy brain so you’re living in a perpetual cloud of confusion, but when your head hits the pillow your mind just won’t shut off. During the day you could cry because all you want to do is sleep. At night you do cry because now you can finally sleep but you’re wide awake.
Then, like a slap in the face, all you hear from people is that you should get your sleep now because you will never sleep again. Still, sleep is elusive and just does not come.
If your man is also having serious sympathy sleeplessness during your pregnancy that is just plain terrible. Tensions run high at times during pregnancy because of hormones and stress, but add in lack of sleep and the relationship between the expecting mother and father is like a ticking time bomb. One or both of you is going to explode if you both continue running on empty. It would be so cute and sweet if when you’re awake at the same time you could do something fun together. Unfortunately that just isn’t realistic in the wee small hours of the morning. More than likely if you are both awake then you should just sit down together and have a good cry – this pregnancy is taking a lot out of you both.
Pregnancy cravings are incredibly weird. They can run the gamut from chocolate cake and pickled onions to sour cream and onion potato chips with vanilla ice cream. These cravings are said to be the result of something the pregnant woman is deficient in… like if she craves pickles then she must need more salt. This may or may not be true, but the fact remains that pregnant women often desire specific foods and sometimes absolutely must have them… immediately.
It’s no surprise that sometimes the salty and sweet combinations many expecting mothers crave can add a few pounds to the scale and more than a few inches to their waistlines. When an expectant father is also having uncontrollable urges to eat whatever he fancies then you might want to look into a gym membership sooner rather than later. Remember, a new mom is doing to drop a lot of weight when she first has the baby and then, if she breastfeeds, could go on to quickly lose much more if she watches what she eats. New dads are not so lucky – their only recourse to drop any pregnancy weight they gain is to do lots of cardio and hit the gym.
Plus, when hubby is also dealing with these intense needs, you better look out for some fireworks in the kitchen. Hopefully, mom and dad have cravings for different things. Otherwise one of them might not make it to see their new baby.
3 Abdominal Pain
Men who deal with Couvade Syndrome often complain of abdominal pain. In the absence of a uterus, it is believed that men have discomfort in the general area of their abdomen because that’s where they see their pregnant partner going through the visual changes of pregnancy. Some experts believe that if the expectant dad is a very empathetic person then his Couvade Syndrome symptoms could be heightened – like abdominal pain.
There are men who struggle with this symptom throughout the entire length of their partner’s pregnancy while others feel the onset during the process of labor. One man even talks about having severe and sharp abdominal pain every time his wife had a contraction during labor. Dealing with this issue is hard since the cause is quite vague, but because of the empathy element, some experts suggest that a change of pace could do a world of good for a man with this symptom. Specifically a boost of testosterone and a night out with the boys might at least take his mind off of his pain for a little while.
Cramps are something painful and (most of the time) very scary for pregnant women. For an expecting mom cramps could be a sign that something is wrong, they could mean labor is near, or they could mean absolutely nothing. An expecting mom who is having cramps immediately goes into a wary and watchful zone. She stops what she’s doing, sits and starts analyzing her body. How long has she been cramping? What kind of cramps are these? How painful are they? Did she do anything different today? Her mind starts to race to make sure her unborn baby is okay.
For men experiencing Couvade Syndrome cramping is a very interesting symptom but inherently completely different than what an expecting woman experiences. Ultimately what happens to a man’s body has no real effect on his unborn baby. Therefore, there is an element of panic that is lacking for a man experiencing cramping as a Couvade Syndrome symptom. Like abdominal pains, some men report cramping every time their pregnant partner went through a contraction during labor.
Not knowing whether this symptom is physiological or psychological, it’s hard to suggest just taking a pain reliever but, again, a good night out with the boys might just be a good answer for your guy.
It’s normal to be nervous about parenthood. If you aren’t nervous about being responsible for keeping a little, tiny, helpless human alive then you are either Mary Poppins or, no offense, something may be a little off with your mindset.
Fear of becoming a parent is something that both expecting moms and expecting dads deal with. It’s a scary thing to think that you will soon be a mom or a dad when you probably still feel like a kid most of the time yourself. Pregnancy can be equal parts joyful and overwhelming and can cause some moms and dads to be to be riddled with anxiety. If the symptom becomes so bad that it interferes with everyday tasks, the best course of action is to seek out someone to talk to – a therapist, friend or trusted advisor – someone who can listen to concerns and hopefully ease some anxiety around the issue.
If you simply get little flares of “what am I doing?” Then you should be okay. You and your man should find ways to destress naturally – moderate exercise, get sleep (if you can) and remember, there will be plenty of other things to worry about once the baby comes. Try to relax now so that you can enjoy your baby more later.
In the end you don’t have to worry about long-term effects of Couvade Syndrome. It may be consistent during pregnancy or come and go on a whim, but one thing is for sure – according to the few medical reports out there on the subject there is a cure for this strange and interesting affliction – birth.
Once the pregnancy is over the symptoms subside and no longer plague the now happy dad.
Sources: Parents.com, Babycenter.com, HealthAndParenting.com, MayoClinic.org, Babble.com