Ever hear men joke that they are eating for two and gaining weight when their partner is pregnant? Maybe they complain of morning sickness, back pain, and leg cramps, also. They joke about feeling like they are pregnant, too. This leads many people to wonder if that’s even a thing. Well, GR8NESS family, we’ve done a little digging to see what we could find out.
What Is a Sympathy Pregnancy?
Though not well known, men sharing their partner’s pregnancy symptoms do happen. They have Couvade syndrome, a condition where men with pregnant partners start to experience pregnancy symptoms.
Symptoms of Couvade Syndrome
If a man is going through a sympathy pregnancy, he will feel many of the symptoms of pregnancy. Though the symptoms a male feels during a sympathy pregnancy can vary, it is usually a combination of:
- Bloating, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, or stomach pain
- Gut issues
- Changes in appetite and/or weight gain
- Respiratory issues
- Anxiety and depression
- Genital discomfort or urinary problems
- Decreased libido
- Restlessness, trouble sleeping, or other sleep issues
The symptoms usually present late in the third month, although they can occur earlier. In most cases, they improve for a while in the second trimester and can return during the third trimester. The symptoms generally go away after the baby is born.
What Causes Couvade Syndrome?
The causes of Couvade syndrome are not thoroughly understood, and the condition is not officially recognized as mental health or physical issue. You may have heard the condition called sympathy pregnancy, pregnant dad syndrome, or male pregnancy experience.
There are a few theories that may answer why Couvade syndrome occurs. There may be more than one factor; any combination of these can cause the symptoms to develop. Medical experts are stymied and still don’t know why some men develop this condition.
Somatization is a generic term for the presentation of symptoms without a medical reason. The symptoms are real and often cause by emotional distress. No matter how excited and happy new parents feel about the birth of their child, it’s not unusual for them to also feel anxious or stressed.
It’s also not surprising that pregnancy affects dads-to-be. The theory is that feelings of anxiety and stress might cause somatic symptoms that mimic those of pregnancy.
Becoming a parent changes the role of adults in society. This can add another layer of anxiety and stress to the situation that dads-to-be may not even realize they are feeling. The theory is that some men have the symptoms of pregnancy as a way of subconsciously handling how they think about the changes in their lives and the new responsibilities they will be facing.
Changes in Hormone Levels
Some research indicates that men with pregnant partners may experience some hormonal changes, a reduction in testosterone production, and an increase in estradiol. These changes may contribute to the symptoms of sympathy pregnancy.
Feelings of Attachment
Men who are highly focused on their partner’s pregnancy and do things like listening to the heartbeat and feeling the baby move may have a higher chance of experiencing a sympathy pregnancy. By interacting with the baby, they may feel closer to their child. These intense feelings may lead to the symptoms of sympathy pregnancy.
Some doctors theorize that there is a mental health connection with Couvade syndrome. They suggest common psychological reasons for the symptoms include:
- Being envious of their partner’s ability to get pregnant and give birth
- Feeling guilty about the pregnancy
- A feeling of competitiveness around their role as a parent
These theories are just that: theories. None have yet been proven through research.
How Often Does Couvade Syndrome Occur?
The research suggests that sympathy pregnancies occur in approximately 25%-52% of men in the U.S. whose partners are pregnant. Little research has been done on the syndrome in LGBTQ+ couples.
Although some men experience severe symptoms, most only struggle with a few mild ones. The symptoms almost always disappear once the baby is born, and, especially if the symptoms were mild, the condition might go unnoticed.
Can Couvade Syndrome Be Treated?
Because the symptoms of Couvade syndrome resolve once the baby is born and usually don’t cause harm, there isn’t a specific treatment recommended for Couvade syndrome. However, some strategies may help ease the symptoms.
Some men find yoga, medication, or other relaxation techniques to help them feel better. Men who experience anxiety or depression can be helped by therapy. Medication can ease physical symptoms, such as pain or nausea.
A Note from GR8NESS
If you are feeling the symptoms of your partner’s pregnancy, remember that you are not alone. If you are finding transitioning to parenthood difficult or are experiencing symptoms you don’t understand, seek out a trained therapist who can help you deal with them.