Couvade Syndrome or “sympathetic pregnancy” is a condition in which a partner experiences some of the same symptoms as his or her pregnant companion, such as bloating, morning sickness, weight gain, and food cravings. As real as these symptoms may be for the afflicted, this syndrome is not officially recognized as a medical condition and much remains unclear about the details surrounding it. The rate of incidence is a bit murky due to inconsistencies in reporting - some partners may be hesitant to admit having pregnancy symptoms. Also, researchers are not yet sure what provokes the syndrome. Is it a psychosomatic condition, i.e. a physical condition caused by mental factors? Or is this phenomenon more biological in nature and due to hormonal changes in the partners of expecting mothers?
These questions involve a bit of a “chicken and the egg” conundrum and are not fully answerable at this time; however, the role of hormonal changes in the male partners of pregnant women has been studied in more depth over the last decade. For some time, researchers have known that new dads have lower testosterone levels than single men and also experience a rise in prolactin and oxytocin, hormones that promote love, nurturing, fidelity, and bonding between a man and his partner and baby.
Findings from a more recent study out of the University of Michigan suggest that a drop in testosterone may even start occurring during the pregnancy and not just after the birth. While testosterone can play an important role in a man’s desire and ability to conceive a baby, lower levels after conception can set the groundwork for a healthier and more successful parent-child experience and relationship; that is, this biological change could promote a gentler approach to fatherhood.
Couvade Syndrome (from the French word couver, meaning “to hatch) may seem strange to some at first; however, there is comfort in knowing that the partners of pregnant women are also becoming biologically prepared to parent. While it may take a village to raise a child, having two prepared parents, rather than just one, is not a bad start.