When fathers get morning sickness
Sympathetic pregnancy (Couvade Syndrome) is a well-documented, though rare phenomenon, whereby expectant dads experience symptoms common to pregnancy, such as morning sickness, weight-gain and cravings.
Couvade is defined as the occurrence of new physical or psychological symptoms in the mates of pregnant women, for which they sought medical care, and which were not otherwise objectively explained.
The term couvade is derived from the early French word couver, meaning “to hatch" and originates from the medieval Basque custom in which expectant fathers would mimic labour pains at the time of birth, receiving the same care and attention as the birthing mother.
In the mind... or the body?
Researchers are divided as to whether couvade is psychosomatic or of physiological origin. It was previously assumed that couvade was a physical response to the anxiety and psychological stresses of imminent fatherhood, as a means of receiving the attention, understanding, support and nurturance they need.
But it is now thought that men experiencing couvade actually undergo hormonal changes similar to those that take place in pregnancy. In some cases these symptoms are not just confined to pregnancy. Men have been known to feel bloated, lethargic and irritable when their wives are menstruating.
The hypothesis is that these men may be sensitive to the pheromones, or chemical signals, their partners release that trigger hormonal changes. It is already known that women living together synchronise their menstrual cycles due to this effect, but no studies have yet been done to prove this where couvade is concerned.
Couvade may be seen as an expression of the close bond between the expectant couple and a somatic expression of normal anxiety experienced by the father. Only if symptoms interfere with the healthy functioning of the person and the relationship between the couple is treatment indicated.
Symptoms of couvade can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight gain
- Water retention
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Abdominal cramps
- Labour pains