If your husband or partner claims that he, too, is experiencing pregnancy cravings or morning sickness, your first instinct may be to roll your eyes at him or suspect that he is in need of some serious attention. After all, you are the one expecting the baby. Surprisingly, he may not be exaggerating. Expectant dads can also experience pregnancy symptoms. Couvade syndrome, also known as “sympathetic pregnancy,” affects an estimated 80 to 90 percent of expectant dads.
What is Sympathetic Pregnancy?
The name “Couvade syndrome” is derived from the French word “couver,” which means “to hatch.” The condition has become more common in the past 30 years as fathers have taken a more prominent role in pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. Fathers who experience sympathetic pregnancy have many of the same physical and emotional symptoms as their pregnant counterparts.
Causes of Sympathetic Pregnancy
Though scientists aren’t completely sure of the reason that the syndrome occurs, it is believed to be caused by strong feelings of stress and empathy. Anxiety about the health of their partner and the new baby, as well as financial concerns and worries about becoming a new dad can cause a large amount of stress in expectant fathers. When this stress isn’t controlled in healthy ways, the body reacts by releasing a potent combination of the hormones cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. These hormones, combined with empathy for the pregnancy symptoms of their expectant partners, are believed to cause the condition to occur.
Particularly stressful situations, such as experiencing infertility or pregnancy loss, make the condition more likely to occur in subsequent pregnancies. Additionally, some studies show that fathers who are adopted are more likely to experience sympathetic pregnancy.
Typical Symptoms of Couvade Syndrome
While most expectant dads will experience sympathetic pregnancy symptoms at some point, only a small percentage will experience dramatic symptoms. These common symptoms include:
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- Food cravings
- Mild swelling
In rare cases, expectant dads have reported breast growth, vomiting and experiencing cramping or abdominal pain as their wife or partner went into labor.
Treatment for Sympathetic Pregnancy
Unfortunately, there is no medication to alleviate the symptoms of a sympathetic pregnancy. Things that can help your husband or partner are many of the things that your doctor has probably recommended for you: eating healthy, getting exercise and practicing stress-relief techniques before going to sleep at night. You can help your husband or partner by trying these activities together. Work together to make a healthy dinner at night or go on evening walks together.
These activities can not only alleviate his symptoms but can help the two of you bond while you prepare to meet your new little one. Bonding can make him feel more secure of his role as your husband or partner and of his new role as a father. If your husband or partner is experiencing extreme sympathetic pregnancy symptoms, however, it’s a good idea for him to talk with a doctor or mental health professional to determine how to best help him.
The next time that your husband or partner complains of his swollen ankles, invite him to prop up his feet next to yours. His symptoms are springing up from the concern he has for you and your new little one and maybe (just a little) need for some extra attention. Go ahead and give him a little extra sympathy for what he is experiencing and know that relief is coming for both of your symptoms in the form of a brand-new baby. While you’re doing your own research about what to expect, it may be beneficial for your partner to do some studying up of their own. Ameda has a wide variety of resources that can help to put both mom and her partner at ease. The more you both know about what to expect before, during and after the birth of your new baby, the more comfortable you’ll both be as you wait for the arrival of your new bundle of joy.