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Baby Talk: Here’s why dad’s pregnancy symptoms often are more than just sympathy pain

Question: My wife is pregnant with our first child. I am gaining weight and nauseous. I am not the one pregnant but somehow I am experiencing so many of the things she is experiencing. Am I crazy?

Answer: No, you are not crazy. You are experiencing what is called couvade syndrome.

Couvade comes from the French word couver, which means to hatch. Couvade is defined as an involuntary manifestation of pregnancy in men with a partner who is expecting a baby. It is also called sympathetic pregnancy.

It is well documented that expectant fathers may experience abdominal pain, bloating, back pain, lethargy, morning sickness, toothaches, food cravings and aversions to some foods.

Last week, I had a father tell me he had all of those things and that his feet hurt as well.

How common is it? Several studies in the United States have found it might be prevalent in 25-52% of pregnancies. There have been reports around 20% of fathers in Sweden report symptoms of couvade. An estimated 60% of men in Thailand have some symptoms of pregnancy.

Welcoming a first baby into a family changes everything in the relationship between a man and a woman. Some even refer to it as cataclysmic. The woman’s body changes during the pregnancy as the baby grows inside her.

Katie Powers mug shot.jpg
Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Family BirthPlace.

During this time, the woman becomes prepared mentally knowing as her body is changing, so is her life. The man’s body does not outwardly change. Does a man experience these pregnancy symptoms as a way of preparing for the changes that will occur within the family dynamics?

Taking the thought forward, maybe the man experiences the pregnancy symptoms as a way of mentally preparing for the physical changes that will be occurring with the birth of their baby.

When you live with someone, you take on similar characteristics. Your circadian rhythm, sleep and wake cycles are similar. Some people even come to look like each other. You eat the same foods, laugh at the same jokes, enjoy your time together doing similar activities.

So why wouldn’t a man experience similar symptoms of the woman who is carrying his baby?

The mind/brain is the most powerful organ in our bodies. Couvade may be a psychosomatic condition. It may be a response of the body to a stimulus in the mind. That does not take away from the reality of couvade, it may explain it.

Loving someone changes your life physically and emotionally. When you love someone, you would do anything for them. You are not afraid to show feelings in public. You accept imperfections as part of the uniqueness of the one you love. You become a better person as you unconditionally accept that other person.

To quote Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet-diplomat and politician Pablo Neruda: “I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride.”

Your life is about to change as you welcome your baby into your life. Embrace your sympathetic pregnancy symptoms as a way of preparing you for the emotional changes awaiting you. You are about to experience a love you have never known before.

Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Healthy Living in the Bradenton Herald. Contact her at katie.powers@mmhhs.com.

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