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Why Do Men Get Sympathetic Pregnancy Symptoms?

Is sympathetic pregnancy or Couvade syndrome in men real? Learn why some men experience sympathetic pregnancy symptoms.
Men Pregnancy Symptoms
Updated: August 10, 2023
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Is your husband or partner suddenly complaining about weight gain, nausea, or an aching back?

It may have sympathetic pregnancy symptoms!

Sympathetic pregnancy also known as Couvade Syndrome is when men mimic their partner’s pregnancy symptoms. It’s a condition that remains a mystery.

The condition comes from the word “couver,” a French word that means to brood, hatch, or incubate. It’s not known for sure how or why sympathetic pregnancy symptoms occur, but this phenomenon seems to be increasingly more common among first-time dads.

In ancient times, men took it upon themselves to mimic pregnancy and even childbirth. These ritualistic practices were an act of empathy and support for men to have a deeper understanding of what women go through.

“Sympathetic pregnancy” manifests a collection of physical and psychological symptoms. Throughout their partner’s pregnancy, some men believe they experience the same pains and aches as a pregnant woman!

Related: Is “Pregnancy Brain” Real?

We are going to discuss below whether or not it’s a real and diagnosable condition, what the symptoms are, and what you can do to help.

Is Sympathetic Pregnancy a Real Condition?

Technically, it is not a real medical condition. However, that doesn’t mean Couvade Syndrome is not real. Many men experience many of the physical symptoms that their pregnant partners face even though they are not going through the same physical and hormonal changes.

There have been many studies that have shown a different change in hormones for men but no one knows for sure why it happens.

What are the Symptoms of Sympathetic Pregnancy in Men?

There are many symptoms of sympathetic pregnancy. Men can experience any of the symptoms that pregnant women can. Here are some that men have reported going through during their partner’s pregnancy.

  • Morning sickness/nausea
  • Food cravings/food sensitivities
  • Bloating/gas
  • Weight gain
  • Mood swings
  • Heartburn
  • Leg cramps
  • Labor pains
  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Indigestion
  • Constipation/diarrhea
  • Toothaches
  • Fatigue/insomnia

When do Symptoms Start and How Long do They Last?

Pregnancy Symptoms Start

Since it mimics pregnancy, symptoms often start in the first trimester. This manifests as more physical and psychological symptoms such as nausea, mood swings, and cravings.

They may tend to taper off in the second trimester and ramp up in the third trimester. Usually, there is an increase in pain, fatigue, and gastrointestinal issues such as constipation.

Once the baby is born, the symptoms generally disappear. However, some men experience symptoms of postpartum depression if their partners do.

What Causes Sympathetic Pregnancy?

Stress and empathy are the biggest triggers for sympathetic pregnancy. According to scientific research, men who report experiencing Couvade Syndrome often have a noticeable drop in testosterone and cortisol levels in men and a rise in prolactin and estradiol. Estradiol is a female hormone that is typically used to treat menopausal symptoms.

However, some researchers believe it is all psychosomatic, meaning it’s all in your head. Developing sympathetic pregnancy may be related to the amount of involvement in the pregnancy and prenatal care as it’s common for them to take on a more prominent role these days. Men that attend all of the important doctor appointments and have more attachment to their partners experience more symptoms for longer.

But this conclusion isn’t the case for many male partners who have been studied going through the same physical symptoms.

Some men report that once the first trimester passes, there’s a decrease in some of the physical symptoms such as nausea and morning sickness. This is similar to a real pregnancy as most women report feeling better going into their second trimester.

How to Treat Sympathetic Pregnancy

Although there is no real treatment for Couvade Syndrome, there are things expectant fathers can do to ease the symptoms.

  • Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Fatherhood is a new phase of life that presents new challenges that you are not going through alone.
  • Join your partner and attend prenatal and even breastfeeding classes. These are helpful for preparation.
  • Get your house ready for the new one’s arrival. Some men experience nesting as one of their pregnancy symptoms as well. Put together the crib early, wash some baby clothes, or get a headstart on babyproofing.
  • Take a break and go on a babymoon with your partner before the little one is born. Spend some time as a couple as a nice reset for your mental health.
  • Visit your doctor or a therapist if you are concerned about any of your symptoms. You will better be able to support your partner if you also take care of yourself.

Can Women Have a Sympathetic Pregnancy?

It is entirely possible for anyone close to someone who is expecting to experience pregnancy symptoms. Even though it is more common for the woman’s partner, other family members or close friends can have sympathetic symptoms.

Some women can even experience something called a phantom pregnancy. If you have given birth or are pregnant before, your body can mimic symptoms and even baby kicks years after the baby is born. It also happens in women who are going through infertility.

How to Respond to Your Partner’s Sympathetic Pregnancy

Having a sympathetic pregnancy will often give men a whole new perspective and appreciation for what their partner is going through. It’s very important to not discount your partner’s feelings. Expectant dads are also going through similar life changes when having a new baby.

Even though there is not a huge change in hormone levels, they still go through physical and emotional symptoms like you are, so being there for each other during this transition is helpful to your relationship before and after pregnancy. Make sure that you are both taking care of each other as best as you can while you anxiously await the arrival of your new family member.

The Bottom Line

The important thing to remember is that while sympathetic pregnancy is not technically a disease or medical condition, it is very real for many men. The symptoms that they experience can cause physical and mental distress as it does for pregnant women. Supporting each other during pregnancy and even postpartum is helpful for both your physical and mental health.

Although there is not a lot of research on Couvade Syndrome, if you are a dad and going through this you are not alone. Speak to your partner or healthcare provider if you are struggling with the symptoms.

For more information on how to best take care of yourself and your partner during this new time in your lives check out: Pregnancy and Mental Health: The Complete Guide.

Sources +

Giourou, E., Skokou, M., Andrew, S. P., & Gourzis, P. (2018). Physiological Basis of the Couvade Syndrome and Peripartum Onset of Bipolar Disorder in a Man: A Case Report and a Brief Review of the Literature. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9.

Masoni, S., Maio, A., Trimarchi, G., de Punzio, C., & Fioretti, P. (1994). The couvade syndrome. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 15(3), 125–131.

Stefanie Miller

About Stefanie

Stefanie is an experienced parenting writer and has published works in other publications… Read more

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