Couvade Syndrome and Expecting Fathers

Dads-to-be can avoid sympathetic pregnancy pains

expecting father helping wife build crib for baby
Aleksandar Nakic/iStock

Pregnancy can bring many surprises to a relationship for both the mother and father-to-be. If you think the expecting mother is the only one whose body will go through changes throughout the gestational nine months, you’re quite mistaken. 

Expecting fathers often experience sympathetic pregnancy pains, including a wide range of psychological and physical distresses, including anxiety, difficulty sleeping, weight gain, and changes in family and professional relationships throughout a pregnancy. This sympathetic pregnancy is typically referred to as Couvade Syndrome, or “pregnant dad” syndrome.

The term “couvade” comes from the French word “couver” which means “to brood." 

Nowadays, the Couvade Syndrome is seen as the natural desire of the expecting father to be more involved in the pregnancy and child-birth process. 

His symptoms slowly start to occur during the third month of the pregnancy and tend to peak towards the end of the third trimester. They tend to mimic the symptoms of the expecting mother. Even though there is no recognized physiological basis for these symptoms in expecting fathers, the issues tend to resolve once childbirth is over. 

Common Physical Symptoms

Common physical symptoms include:

  • Indigestion
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Respiratory problems
  • Leg cramps
  • Backaches
  • Headache
  • Toothache 
  • Urinary or genital irritations

Surprisingly enough, a toothache is a commonly reported symptom which is strange because it isn’t typically associated with other stress-related issues. Common psychological symptoms include changes in sleeping patterns, anxiety, depression, reduced sex drive, and restlessness. 

What Is the Cause?

There is no concrete explanation for this phenomenon. It’s rather poorly understood, and it’s not the result of a mental illness or a disease. Studies indicate that Couvade Syndrome is thought to be the expression of somatized (bodily) anxiety, pseudo-sibling rivalry, identification with the fetus, uncertainty and hesitation about becoming a father, a statement of paternity, or even childbirth envy. 

It’s also been found that some men, who didn’t have their fathers present when they were younger or had a history of infertility problems, may have more Couvade symptoms. As strange as this all may all sound, the extent and existence of the syndrome vary greatly between individuals and has many factors which determine how severe it could become. 

Managing Stress

Getting ready to become a dad can be very exciting, emotional and stressful, so it’s important for dads-to-be to learn how to best manage their stresses and prepare for the baby. If nothing is done to manage their stress, the fear and anxiety associated with becoming a father can become overwhelming. In many cases, Couvade is psychosomatic. 

One of the best ways for men to deal with Couvade is to for them to hear an explanation of what Couvade Syndrome is, to understand what they could expect, and to know that it’s not uncommon to experience these symptoms.

The anxiety associated with experiencing unexplained symptoms is more than enough to send a person into a tailspin of heightened stress, anxiety and worry about the root cause of what ails them. Education is very helpful in this situation.

Some other ways to get expecting dads through Couvade Syndrome are much like the activities that expecting moms will do to help manage the stresses and worries of pregnancy and childbirth. They can attend prenatal classes for support and seek out the advice and encouragement of friends and family. Strengthening the bond with one’s partner is also crucial, as open communication is vital to the relationship through a pregnancy. Exercising together is a great way to create a positive bond together. The experience of becoming a parent is very unique and affects everyone in different ways. Explaining this to your partner will help you unload some of the stresses associated with the anticipation. It’s also important for women to understand and recognize that men are being sympathetic to them as they carry the baby.

Planning for Baby's Arrival

Understanding and planning for the baby’s arrival is helpful, as well as settling financial issues that deal with the baby. Attending childbirth classes with one’s partner, attending follow-up doctor’s office appointments, and providing support during delivery are ways for men to be included in the childbirth process. These are very effective ways to make men feel like they are an active and important part of the pregnancy. Most importantly, it’s very helpful for men to completely embrace the idea of becoming a father. 

When it comes to physical symptoms, natural herbal remedies for nausea can also prove helpful, such as drinking peppermint tea or eating ginger.

Combating Weight Gain

There are many logical reasons that men could eat more during their partner’s pregnancy. Some couples may eat out more often as the pregnancy progresses, a greater volume of unhealthy food and snacks and are usually hanging around the house because the mother has an increased appetite and eats bigger portions, and some men want to make their partner feel better about their own weight gain so they gain some weight as a type of sympathy. However, these problems can be solved by men consciously making healthy lifestyle choices on a daily basis, regardless of the unhealthy snacks that may be lurking on the kitchen countertops. 

The repercussions of weight gain during pregnancy can become troublesome for expecting dads. As they gain weight, their body mass index increases, putting them at a greater risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic diseases. 

Once the baby comes, dads tend to get very busy and don’t think about making the time to eat and exercise properly. This causes the weight gain to stay on and negatively impacts the dad’s health. This is the last thing that a dad wants to worry about while he’s preparing for a baby, so it’s important for men to have the willpower to make positive and sustainable lifestyle choices when it comes to what they eat, drink, and how much physical activity they engage in—before and after the baby comes. Since partners tend to mimic each other’s habits, this is a great opportunity to lead by example and help the expecting mother make a positive and healthy diet and lifestyle choices during the pregnancy as well. 

Knowing What to Expect

If dads-to-be know what to expect, they can mentally prepare themselves not to fall victim to bad food and lifestyle choices that will negatively affect their mood, and begin the domino effect of more severe physical and psychological Couvade Syndrome symptoms. 

If you’re an expecting father who is worried about falling victim to Couvade Syndrome, know that willpower is your best weapon.

If you focus on the type of man, partner, and father that you want and need to be, then you will have the power to say no to the bad lifestyle choices and daily decisions that lead to weight gain and unhealthy habits in the long run.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  • Couvade Syndrome.  Web.  31 May 2016.
  • The Couvade Syndrome. Laplante P.  U.S. National Library of Medicine: Can Fam Physician, Jul 1991.  Web.   31 May 2016. 
  • Couvade Syndrome: Male Counterpart to Pregnancy.  Klein H.  U.S National Library of Medicine: Int J Psychiatry Med, 1991.  Web.  31 May 2016.
  • Pregnancy Week By Week: What can you tell me about Couvade Syndrome?.  Nippoldt TB.  Mayo Clinic, 15 Jan 2014.  Web.  31 May 2016.
  • The Couvade Syndrome. Conlon MF, Trethowan WH.  The British Journal of Psychiatry, Jan 1965.  Web.  31 May 2016.

By Jay Cardiello
Jay Cardiello is a fitness author and leading strength and conditioning specialist certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.