Have you ever heard of couvade syndrome? Most men haven’t heard of this and as a matter of fact, most don’t even realize this is a thing… until it is too late.
Pregnancy is good news not only for the mother-to-be and father-to-be but for all their relatives. However, pregnancy can be characterized by a lot of stress and surprises for the mother-to-be who may experience all sorts of changes in her body including mood swing, nausea, vomiting, and hormonal imbalances. The common notion is that women are the only ones who undergo these changes but that’s not true. The father-to-be also experiences a change in his body and an imbalance of his hormones, similar to that of the pregnant woman.
The changes that expecting fathers experience during the 9-month gestation period is commonly called sympathetic pregnancy. It is characterized by many physiological and psychological symptoms such as stress, anxiety, sleep disorders, weight gain, vomiting, nausea and much more. It is believed by many individuals that this notion is a myth, but it has been proven to be medically accurate. ((İbiloğlu, A. O. & Atli, A. (2018). Couvade syndrome: a rare case report. Klinik Psikofarmakoloji Bulteni, 28, 193-193. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323607237_Couvade_syndrome_A_rare_case_report))
There is no need to worry if you are currently experiencing something like this as it is believed to be completely normal. In addition, the symptoms often go away after pregnancy, but this is a disputable fact. Some researchers argue that the symptoms don’t go away after her pregnancy.
For instance, a study published in 2015 investigated the causes of sympathetic pregnancy and concluded that the symptoms especially weight gain does not disappear after the female partner gives birth. The study which was published in the American Journal of Men’s Health was conducted by a pediatrician at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Dr. Craig Garfield, and his colleagues. ((Garfield, C. F., Duncan, G., Gutina, A., Rutsohn, J., McDade, T. W., Adam, E. K., Coley, R. L., & Chase-Lansdale, P. L. (2015). Longitudinal Study of Body Mass Index in Young Males and the Transition to Fatherhood. American Journal of Men’s Health,10(6), NP158 – NP167. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/1557988315596224))
The researchers followed the lives of 10,263 men for 20 years as they transitioned from adolescence to fatherhood, and found that their body mass index (BMI) changed over time. As the study participants became fathers (and when they did not) they had changes in weight as well. The investigators found that entrance into fatherhood was associated with an increase in BMI, while non-fathers exhibit a decrease in BMI over the same period of time. They concluded that weight gain in fathers-to-be may remain, even after delivery of the baby.
What is Couvade Syndrome? (Pregnant Dad Syndrome)
Sympathetic pregnancy is also referred to as pregnant dad syndrome or Couvade Syndrome. This phenomenon was first described in medical literature the mid-sixties by a group of British authors who tried to analyze some typical pregnancy symptoms observed in fathers to be. ((Piechowski-Jozwiak, B. & Bogousslavsky, J. (2018). Couvade Syndrome-Custom, Behavior or Disease? In Neurologic-Psychiatric Syndromes in Focus-Part II (Vol. 42, pp. 51-58). Karger Publishers. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29151091)) However, this has been observed since ancient times. The word “couvade” is derived from a French term “couver” which when translated means “to sit on” or “to brood.” ((https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/french-english/couver))
In recent times, Couvade Syndrome is viewed by many as the natural want and desire of the father of the fetus to be more involved in the process of pregnancy and childbirth. ((Devi, A. M. & Chanu, M. P. (2015). Couvade syndrome. International Journal of Nursing Education and Research, 3(3), 109-111. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Akoijam_Devi2/publication/286313694_7_IJNER_165_–28-05-2015DE/links/5667b26c08aea62726ee986a/7-IJNER-165–28-05-2015DE.pdf)) Compared to decades ago, men are now more involved with these processes, that they may experience symptoms that are similar to that of the expecting mother. Pregnant women require all the help they can get and much of it comes from the expecting father.
Apart from just the need to help a pregnant woman, many men feel more responsible when they take care of their partners. It also gives them the chance to show love to both mother and baby even before the baby is born.
Expecting fathers are as anxious as their pregnant partners to meet the newest member of the family and this is a big change in the life of the duo. It is reported that the symptoms of couvade syndrome usually commence in the first trimester of pregnancy and may gradually increase during the pregnancy.
Early Symptoms of Couvade Syndrome
As already mentioned above, the symptoms are similar to that of the pregnant partner including:
- mood swings
- weight gain
The results of a recent study in Sweden were published in the Journal of Men’s Health. There were 871 expectant fathers that participated and the researchers concluded that “more than half the expectant fathers experienced some degree of emotional change during their partner’s pregnancy, and one in five experienced physical changes. Emotional and physical changes affected the expectant fathers’ mental and physical health”. ((Johansson, J., Edwardsson, C. & Hildingsson, I. (2015). The “Pregnant Man”—Expecting Fathers Experience Pregnancy-Related Changes: A Longitudinal Study With a Mixed Method Approach. Journal of Men’s Health, 11(6). Retrieved from https://jomh.org/index.php/JMH/article/view/16))
It is stated in the International Journal of Nursing Education and Research that the cause of these symptoms is somewhat of a debate. Symptoms experienced by the father may be a psychosomatic condition, while others believe it may have biological causes relating to hormone changes. In addition, certain cultures believe that these changes have a possible purpose during the pregnancy, Some believe that it is to ward off evil spirits by drawing attention away from the mother and baby, while others feel that it is to strengthen the bond between the father and the child. Each belief is slightly different and it depends on the specific culture. ((Devi, A. M. & Chanu, M. P. (2015). Couvade syndrome. International Journal of Nursing Education and Research, 3(3), 109-111. Retrieved from http://ijneronline.com/HTMLPaper.aspx?Journal=International%20Journal%20of%20Nursing%20Education%20and%20Research;PID=2015-3-3-17)).
Common Couvade Syndrome Symptoms
Symptoms typically reported by men and associated with couvade can vary, but typically occur only during the first and third trimesters of their partner’s pregnancy. ((Saxbe, D., Corner, G. W., Khaled, M., Horton, K., Wu, B., & Khoddam, H. L. (2018). The weight of fatherhood: identifying mechanisms to explain paternal perinatal weight gain. Health Psychology Review, 1-18. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29712505)) These symptoms can be divided into two categories:
- abdominal pain
- appetite changes
- respiratory problems
- leg cramps
- urinary or genital irritations.
- changes in sleeping patterns
- reduced libido
These symptoms are usually mild and may go away by themselves after a short period of time. However, you can take the common pharmaceutical medications prescribed to treat the symptoms you are experiencing. It is recommended to speak with your doctor before taking any medication.
Causes of Couvade Syndrome
There is no universally accepted explanation for couvade syndrome, but there are several explanations that are believed to have addressed the reasons why men experience these symptoms when their partner is pregnant. However, it is believed that the condition is not a result of any disease or mental illness.
The first explanation is that stress is the primary culprit behind couvade syndrome. Pregnancy is a stressful period for both the pregnant woman and her partner because he has to assist her with things around the house as well as the changes she is experiencing. Stress may cause men to experience a number of symptoms that may be similar to that of an expecting mother. This is particularly common with first-time fathers. ((Ganapathy, T. (2014). Couvade syndrome among 1 st time expectant fathers. Muller Journal of Medical Sciences and Research, 5(1), 43. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269967353_Couvade_syndrome_among_1_st_time_expectant_fathers))
It has also been argued that couvade syndrome is caused by several factors including a statement of paternity, expression of somatized anxiety, identification with the fetus, pseudo-sibling rivalry, uncertainty about the pregnancy, hesitation about becoming a father, and envy about the procreating abilities of women, just to name a few. ((Piechowski-Jozwiak, B. & Bogousslavsky, J. (2018). Couvade Syndrome-Custom, Behavior or Disease?. In Neurologic-Psychiatric Syndromes in Focus-Part II (Vol. 42, pp. 51-58). Karger Publishers. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1159/000475686))
Sleep disorders are common among pregnant women. This is another way for fathers-to-be to stress out as they experience frequent awakenings or may have to stay awake to keep their pregnant partner company when they are unable to sleep for one reason or the other.
Severity Levels of Couvade Syndrome
Some say that the symptoms of couvade syndrome may differ in terms of severity from one person to another. There are several factors that determine how people experience the syndrome.
The majority of men that experience symptoms during the prenatal stage, often report that these symptoms dissipate after the baby is born. However, there are cases in which symptoms continue or even escalate during the postpartum period. This incidence of this is far rarer but can include psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and adjustment disorders, postpartum depression, and bipolar disorder. ((Philpott, L. F. & Corcoran, P. (2018). Paternal postnatal depression in Ireland: Prevalence and associated factors. Midwifery, 56, 121-127. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2017.10.009))
How to Manage Couvade Syndrome
After understanding what couvade syndrome entails, the first questions that run through the mind are “What’s the cure? ” and “How can I prevent it?.”
It is important to reiterate that couvade syndrome is not a disease or illness it that can be cured by a pharmaceutical drug designed to treat or prevent the condition. In addition, judging from the possible causes of the syndrome, one can only manage and mitigate, not cure or prevent.
There are several ways to manage the condition and chief among them is understanding what couvade syndrome is all about.
Experts believe that the best way for men to manage the condition is to hear and understand what it is, the major factors that influence it, what to expect, and possible ways to manage it. This is especially true, because of the stress and anxiety that correlate with having a symptom that you are unable to explain, may be enough to accelerate the severity of your condition.
Preparing to Be a Father
Meanwhile, if you already know what you are signing up for, you will be physically and mentally ready to face it, thus handling it properly. Furthermore, preparing to become a dad may be stressful, hence learning to manage stress while getting ready for the baby’s arrival will help to reduce the severity of the symptoms associated with couvade syndrome. If you do not treat stress for a long period of time, it may be overwhelming and even lead to other critical health conditions like depression, high blood pressure, cognitive disorders, cardiovascular diseases, and many others. ((Mariotti, A. (2015). The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain–body communication. Future science OA, 1(3). Retrieved from https://www.future-science.com/doi/full/10.4155/fso.15.21))
Expecting dads may also manage the symptoms of couvade syndrome by actively engaging in the activities that women often do to manage stress and other pregnancy-related symptoms. This may sound too hectic to some men who are busy with other affairs, but it will go a long way in helping you manage your symptoms properly.
These activities may include attending prenatal classes with your pregnant partner, doing daily exercises, accompanying your partner to prenatal visits with her OB-GYN, scheduling massages for the two of you, talking to your partner about how you feel, and planning for the baby’s arrival together. These activities can be beneficial in treating the symptoms of couvade syndrome. They are also effective in strengthening the bond between you and your partner. Controlling what you eat and when you eat is another amazing way to prevent weight gain during this period.
Managing Couvade Syndrome With Herbal Supplements
Alternatively, you may consider trying out natural herbal supplements for your symptoms. There are several herbs that may be beneficial in treating and preventing couvade syndrome-related symptoms such as valerian root extract, maca root extract, Tongkat Ali, ashwagandha and many others.
A study published in the American Journal of Human Biology discussed the lack of information about hormone changes in men during pregnancy. From this study, the researchers found significant prenatal declines in testosterone and estradiol in the fathers. ((Edelstein, R. S., Wardecker, B. M., Chopik, W. J., Moors, A. C., Shipman, E. L., & Lin, N. J. (2015). Prenatal hormones in first-time expectant parents: Longitudinal changes and within-couple correlations. American Journal of Human Biology, 27(3):317-25. Retrieved from doi:10.1002/ajhb.22670. Epub 2014 Dec 15.)) Herbs like ashwagandha and maca root extract may be effective in regulating the balance of important hormones in the body including adrenaline, estrogen, insulin, and testosterone. Ashwagandha may also regulate the level of cortisol in the body by about 28 percent. This is the hormone that controls stress in the body. ((Gardner, T. & Level, A. H. P. (2015). The Characteristics, Benefits and Application of Ashwagandha in the West. Image, 2, 2. Retrieved from http://www.ayurvedacollege.com/sites/ayurvedacollege.com/files/articles/The%20Characteristics,%20Benefits%20and%20Application%20of%20Ashwagandha%20in%20the%20West%20By%20Tanya%20Gardner.pdf))
As already mentioned above, stress may be the major contributing factor to the severity of couvade syndrome. Keeping the level of cortisol within the normal range may go a long way toward preventing the unpleasant symptoms that accompany the condition. In addition, herbal supplements like ashwagandha can be both safe and effective in managing several health conditions and providing long-lasting solutions compared to pharmaceutical medications that may not be as effective and may be accompanied by numerous side effects.
Learn more about the benefits of ashwagandha.
Learn more about the benefits of maca.