It’s rare, but it’s real. Broadly speaking, couvade syndrome is men who experience the same physical symptoms as their pregnant wives. The definition also extends to friends, sisters or parents, but for the most part, it’s usually sympathy pregnancy in men.

Sympathy pregnancy symptoms in men

In extreme cases, sufferers have been known to develop a phantom pregnant belly. Generally, though, empathy pregnancy more commonly includes morning sickness, back ache, mood fluctuations and fatigue.

The thing is, for all the fun that has been made of this condition in movies and the media, it is an indication of empathy, and something of which men should be proud! There is absolutely nothing unmanly about the syndrome.

Medical treatment includes symptomatic medication and a recommendation to get some counselling if it continues. The need for counselling is related to the non-physical cause of couvade.

Handling couvade syndrome as a partner

It is important to note that couvade syndrome is not a recognised term in medicine. It is generally accepted that it is a psychosomatic experience, while more recent studies indicate that it may even be due to hormonal changes in the father.

Unfortunately, there is not enough data on the phenomenon because men are loathe to share their experiences. As a result, studies into couvade syndrome have not advanced.

If your partner experiences couvade syndrome when you are pregnant, it is important not to belittle them or make them feel as though there is something wrong with them. If anything, their commitment to the baby is showing itself in physical form.

The thing about stress

A far less recognised cause of the syndrome has been found to present among many sufferers. Although there is a strong focus on the mother-to-be during pregnancy, fathers-to-be can often be left by the wayside. But men experience the run-up to the birth of a child in a series of very real and even predictable emotions.

Men being men are unlikely to mention or offload mounting stress, and it is believed that couvade may be a subversive way for the brain to deal with the stress of facing fatherhood. The pressure of being a provider and feeling forced to be strong for your woman can affect men in many ways.

It is not merely worrying about providing for the first few weeks or months after the birth of the baby. Babies are expensive, and society does not look lightly on fathers who fail to provide for their children. If the family unit is already financially stretched, men may feel overwhelmed with the upcoming costs.

“It is believed that couvade may be a subversive way for the brain to deal with the stress of facing fatherhood.”

In it together

Remind your partner that you are in it together, and that you are aware of the financial stress of the situation. Although it can sometimes be frustrating to be the pregnant one, but feeling as though you have to coddle your partner, it is well worth the time. Allaying your partner’s fears that you are expecting too much from him has been shown to alleviate symptoms.

Sympathetic pregnancy is still a very rare thing in Africa (at least as is recorded) but as time passes and the pressures of city living continue to increase, men with deeper, physical empathy will emerge. And in time, it will be seen for the great indication of strength that it is.

Also read:

Postnatal depression: Men get it too
How to survive your wife’s pregnancy