Imagine being pregnant for the very first time? The joy, the excitement…the anticipation! The fear, the anxiety…the uncertainty! The emotional upheaval, the burgeoning body…the forgetful tendencies! The heightened senses, the aversion to certain foods and smells…the cravings! Add to that: morning sickness, cramps, oedema, heartburn, back ache, fatigue…and anything else women experience in their first pregnancy. Now, amidst all of that, imagine also having to deal with a pregnant husband/partner?! Yep, you read that right: P-R-E-G-N-A-N-T.
A bit too much?
Well, before you totally freak out, you might want to read on and get a little more informed about Sympathetic Pregnancy aka Couvade Syndrome. It is a pregnancy-related condition that is quite common among men, though hardly talked about. Here’s hoping that by the time you are done reading, you’ll be better able to handle the situation should it ever befall you: Dad-to-be or Mom-to-be!
Couvade syndrome demystified
Couvade syndrome is a condition where a man, whose spouse/partner is expecting a baby, experiences pregnancy-related symptoms. Sympathetic pregnancy is not a recognized medical condition but rather a physical condition which is believed to be linked to psychological or hormonal causes. It usually befalls men who are first-time daddies and happens mainly in the first and third trimesters of the pregnancy, sometimes overlapping to post partum.
Symptoms of sympathetic pregnancy
Some physical symptoms of Couvade syndrome include:
- Weight gain
- Leg cramps
- Back pain
Some psychological symptoms include:
- Feelings of jealousy
- Mood swings
- Poor concentration and memory loss
Causes of Couvade syndrome
To date, there is no clear explanation accounting for the occurrence of sympathetic pregnancy in men, despite its prevalence. There are, however, a number of speculations that are thought to be likely reasons for this syndrome. These include: hormones, emotional attachment to the baby and mother, anxiety and envy/ jealousy.
Studies have been made on the hormonal changes of both men and women during pregnancy and changes in a woman’s hormone levels (particularly prolactin and cortisol) have also been found to occur in the male partner during the pregnancy. These studies have also revealed high levels of prolactin in men soon after the child is born. These hormonal changes are speculated be one of the likely causes for couvade syndrome in some men.
- Emotional Attachment
These man-pregnancy-related symptoms are also thought to be brought about by a emotional attachment to both the baby and its mother during pregnancy. In such a scenario a man shares a deep emotional connection with his spouse or partner; so deep it manifests itself in the man ‘sharing’ the pregnancy!
Couvade syndrome is also believed to be triggered by a high level of anxiety/fear at the weight of responsibility and life adjustment that is brought about by the introduction of a baby to a family. This is probably why sympathetic pregnancy is usually associated with first-time dads.
In some cases, sympathetic pregnancy is thought to be brought about by a man’s feelings of inadequacy or exclusion at the woman’s procreative ability, which then give rise to envy. Jealousy at the thought of being replaced by the baby is another likely cause.
Dealing with sympathetic pregnancy
Experts agree that the most effective treatment for this syndrome is to ensure that the man feels that he is an active and vital part of the process; capable of handling the awesome responsibility of becoming a dad. This can be brought about by participating in antenatal classes, reading a lot about pregnancy, providing support during delivery and plenty of communication between the parents-to-be. Taking the time to prepare for birth and parenthood can help men to avoid feelings of anxiety, fear and envy.
When the symptoms of couvade syndrome are a little too extreme (i.e. serious mood swings or a growing stomach and breasts) then medical intervention or professional counseling may need to be sought.
Couvade syndrome is real –even in Africa! If you are a mom-to-be or dad-to-be –or any pregnant couple at that –you might want to keep your eyes open to these traits. Here’s hoping you are better able to handle the situation if this pregnancy phenomenon sounds a little like yours.