Couvade syndrome is another term for what’s commonly known as sympathy pains. While not an official diagnosis, many partners of pregnant people report experiencing it.
Expecting a baby? You’re in a very exciting (and stressful!) time filled with all sorts of planning and preparation — and symptoms! You’re going through a lot physically as your baby grows and develops.
What may surprise you is that your partner seems to be feeling different, too. If they seem to have more than just a few sympathy pains, they may even have something called Couvade syndrome.
Couva-what, you ask? Well, believe it or not, it’s relatively common for the non-pregnant partner to have it — often, without even realizing it. Here’s more about what you can expect as you and your partner make your way toward your baby’s due date.
Couvade syndrome is also known as sympathetic pregnancy. It comes from the French word couvee which means “to
Tylor observed men in primitive communities as they would mimic their partner’s pain during labor or even breastfeeding after birth.
More research uncovered that men would have pregnancy-like symptoms throughout their partners’ pregnancies. Tylor attributed these symptoms to empathy or compathy, which is “
When your partner has Couvade syndrome, they may not know if the symptoms they’re experiencing are psychosomatic or not. They may seek out medical help, only to hear that nothing is really “wrong” with them at all, adding more stress to an already stressful situation.
Here’s the thing: Couvade syndrome isn’t an official disease or psychological condition, despite research suggesting it’s a relatively common phenomenon.
So, your partner’s doctor will likely not give them a diagnosis. And while you won’t see Couvade syndrome in the pages of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), that doesn’t make it any less real if your partner is experiencing it.
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You’ve probably heard of people gaining weight or having food cravings along with their pregnant significant other. There’s a whole range of symptoms people might experience with Couvade syndrome.
What one person may experience can be totally different from what another person might experience — much like actual pregnancy symptoms.
Symptoms can be split depending on if they’re psychological or physical in nature. And it’s important to note that
Psychological symptoms may include:
- trouble sleeping
- decreased desire for sex/other changes in libido
Physical symptoms may include:
- nausea, vomiting, and heartburn
- pain or bloating in the abdomen
- changes in appetite
- leg cramps
- back pain
- genital or urinary irritation
- weight gain or weight loss
- stomach distention
Toothache is another common symptom and present as much as 43 percent of the time. In fact, one recent
Symptoms associated with sympathetic pregnancy tend to develop in the first trimester. If you think about it, the first trimester is generally you experience morning sickness, exhaustion, and other not-so-joyful physical symptoms of pregnancy.
Interestingly, the symptoms of Couvade syndrome may subside during the second trimester, which also tends to happen in pregnancy.
For pregnant people, the second trimester is sometimes anecdotally referred to as the “honeymoon period” because they may generally feel good. Partners dealing with Couvade syndrome generally feel good, too.
Sympathetic pregnancy symptoms then tend to return and worsen in the third trimester and as birth nears. Again, this closely aligns with regular pregnancy ills and discomforts that you experience as your body prepares for birth.
Again, you won’t exactly find a wealth of information about sympathetic pregnancy in medical textbooks or other literature. That’s because Couvade syndrome has been studied more intently by anthropologists and sociologists.
Why is this the case? Well, it seems the physical and psychological symptoms develop mainly in response to social situations (in this case, a partner’s pregnancy) and culture.
Researchers go back to the idea of empathy related to a partner’s pregnancy as the root cause. Side note: There’s not much information on if this syndrome impacts women in same-sex couples. It’s a fair assumption that if Couvade is rooted in empathy/compathy, that it may apply to either sex.
Anxiety is another contributing factor where researchers have found a link. Higher anxiety is
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Studies show that the odds of developing Couvade syndrome are likely tied to culture. For example, instances of the syndrome vary depending on geographical location, with a prevalence in Australia (31 percent), the United Kingdom (25 percent), and Poland (72 percent), just to name a few areas.
One older study explains that men in couples who have experienced infertility may develop Couvade syndrome. Of the 36 couples examined, six men had symptoms that aligned closely with what their partners were experiencing.
The study found that symptoms overall tended to be worse in the first trimester, better in the second trimester, and worse again in the third trimester. The researchers say the term “symptom attunement” may be a better way to describe the phenomenon.
Other researchers have theorized that the syndrome is caused by anything from envy of the pregnant partner/maternal bond to a “transitional crisis” into parenthood.
Unfortunately, findings tend to be inconsistent. And even with all this information, more work needs to be done to explore the potential physiological causes of sympathetic pregnancy.
There is no specific treatment outlined for Couvade syndrome.
This isn’t to say your partner can’t reach out to their doctor for help treating symptoms. But since the syndrome is linked to pregnancy (and still not fully understood), it may not totally go away until the pregnancy is over.
Take notice of any heartburn and leg cramps, weight gain and depression, or any other symptoms your partner may have. That said, understand that pregnancy is full of anticipation and anxiety — for both partners.
Symptoms of Couvade syndrome tend to heighten with anxiety. So, be sure you’re both taking care of yourselves — and each other — during this time.
This means getting extra rest, eating a balanced diet, avoiding excess alcohol and drugs, exercising regularly, and engaging in stress-relief techniques, like deep breathing, yoga, and meditation.