Pregnancy is a time of heightened emotions, uncertainty, excitement and anxiety for expectant parents. Some expectant fathers do experience similar symptoms as their pregnant partners. According to research conducted by Arthur Brennan of St. George's University in London, these physical and emotional changes experienced by men during their partners' pregnancies is known collectively as the Couvade syndrome. This phenomenon is experienced by biological expectant fathers and appears mainly in the first and third trimesters. Interestingly, symptoms disappear completely soon after the baby's birth.
Not Faking It
A strong emotional bond as well as the physical closeness between the expectant father and the mother of his unborn child, can result in his identifying so much with her symptoms that he begins to experience them himself. This is especially true for men who are emotionally sensitive, according to researcher, Maria Kazmierczak. Despite not being widely recognized as an official medical condition, the symptoms of Couvade syndrome are very real for those expectant fathers who experience them. Brennan's research found that between 11 and 97 percent of fathers-to-be experience involuntary and unconscious pregnancy symptoms.
Honey, I Think I May Be Pregnant, Too
The physical symptoms experienced by expectant fathers include changes in appetite, unusual cravings, diarrhea, vomiting, feeling generally unwell, weight gain, weight loss, heartburn, hemorrhoids, bloating and flatulence. Aches and pain are a common symptom, the more prevalent of which are toothaches, headaches, cramps and back pain. Patrice Laplante, a professor of Family Medicine in Quebec, found that expectant fathers could also be more prone to bone fractures. Both Laplante and Brennan highlighted earlier studies which showed that fathers-to-be sometimes experienced abdominal pain while their partners were in labor.
Male Nesting Behavior
The expectant father may also undergo several psychosocial and emotional changes. Couvade Syndrome is associated with feelings of restlessness, changes in sleep patterns, a decrease in sex drive, irritability, depression, anxiety and increased aggression. To what extent these occurrences are due to a reflection of the changes in the pregnant partner is unclear. However, based on observed practices in several different cultures, these alterations in mood and behavior are strongly related to preparation for the imminent birth of the child, according to Patrice Laplante.
The Hormone Connection
The unconscious occurrence of the over 39 different symptoms of Couvade syndrome are related in part to hormone levels. According to Brennan, higher levels of prolactin, which stimulates milk production, stress-related cortisol and decreased levels of testosterone were found in men who reported pregnancy-like symptoms. This same imbalance in hormones was evident in men who showed greater concern and who were more highly responsive to baby-related stimuli such as crying and cooing, in the early postpartum period.
- Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology: A Critical Review of the Couvade Syndrome: The Pregnant Male
- Canadian Family Physician: The Couvade Syndrome - The Biological, Psychological and Social Impact of Pregnancy on the Expectant Father
- Medical Science Monitor: Couvade Syndrome Among Polish Expectant Fathers.
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