Also called sympathetic pregnancy or phantom pregnancy, is a condition in which a man experiences some of the same symptoms and behaviour of an expectant mother. These most often include minor weight gain, altered hormone levels, morning nausea, and disturbed sleep patterns. In more extreme cases they can include labour pains, post-partum depression, and nosebleeds. The labour pain symptom is commonly known as sympathy pain.
Pregnancy Potrayed as the letter ‘B’
The cause of Couvade is a matter of some disagreement in the medical community. Some believe it to be a psychosomatic condition, while others believe it to have biological causes.
The term Couvade is borrowed from French (where it is derived from the verb couver ‘to brood, hatch’); the use in the modern sense derives from a misunderstanding of an earlier idiom faire la couvade, which meant ‘to sit doing nothing.’ It originally referred to the medieval Basque custom in which the father, during or immediately after the birth of a child, took to bed, complained of having labour pains, and was accorded the treatment usually shown women during pregnancy or after childbirth.
Couvade has been reported by travellers throughout history, including the Greek geographer Strabo and the Venetian traveller Marco Polo. It has been observed and studied by anthropologists in modern times and is often seen in tribal societies. In some indigenous societies, so-called sympathetic pregnancy is attributed to demons or spirits inflicting the symptoms in an attempt to cause problems for the family.
Symptoms experienced by the partner can include stomach pain, indigestion, changes in appetite, weight gain, diarrhoea, constipation, headache, toothache, cravings, nausea, breast augmentation, hardening of the nipple and insomnia. In some extreme cases, fathers can grow a belly similar to a 7-month pregnant woman and gain approximately 25 to 30 pounds.
The causes of Couvade syndrome have not yet been determined to a medical certainty, but many hypotheses have been advanced.
In the past, many purely psychological causes that were suggested included anxiety, pseudo-sibling rivalry, identification with the foetus, ambivalence about fatherhood, a statement of paternity, or parturition envy.
In Psycho-Evolutionary theory, it is thought that Couvade is a way to minimize sexual differences in the pregnancy and birthing experience. The Couvade may also be a way to establish the father’s role in the child’s life and to give balance to the gender roles. Couvade is more common where sex roles are flexible and the female is of a dominant status.
Studies have shown that the male partner cohabitating with a pregnant female will experience hormonal shifts in his prolactin, cortisol, estradiol, and testosterone levels, typically starting at the end of the first trimester and continuing through several weeks post-partum.