Partners Experiencing Sympathetic Pregnancy Is Not As Weird As You Might Think
If your non-pregnant partner is having pregnancy symptoms, here's how to handle it.
The constant cravings. The swollen ankles. The chronic fatigue. It’s one thing to go through all the aches and pains of pregnancy, but it’s entirely another when your partner is also experiencing the same symptoms, too (and, ahem, isn’t expecting). There’s a name for this phenomenon, and it’s called Couvade Syndrome — and it’s a lot more common than you might think.
What Is Couvade Syndrome?
More than likely, you’ve heard of the non-medical name for Couvade Syndrome: a sympathetic pregnancy. And for as long as women have been birthing babies, there’s been a partner (usually male) who’s also been complaining about their morning sickness, too, according to a PubMed study. “Couvade syndrome is not medically recognized, but is a condition when men/partners experience pregnancy related symptoms while their partners are experiencing them,” Dr. Lauren Demosthenes, MD, an OB/GYN and Senior Medical Director with Babyscripts tells Romper.
What Are Symptoms Of Couvade Syndrome?
Some people take their partners’ pregnancies in stride. And then, there are the others who are belly aching about, you know, their bellies. “Some symptoms of Couvade Syndrome include weight gain, ‘morning sickness’ with nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and labor pains,” Dr. Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, double board-certified in OB/GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine, Director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln tells Romper. And it doesn’t end there. Couvade Syndrome isn’t just relegated to psychological changes, but physical ones as well. “Physical symptoms like nausea, abdominal pain, bloating, appetite changes, backaches, heartburn are common with Couvade Syndrome,” explains Dr. Demosthenes. “But then there are the psychological symptoms, which might include changes in sleep, anxiety, depression, reduced libido and irritability.” Lovely.
Why Do Partners Experience Couvade Syndrome?
There are many reasons why your partner is suddenly walking with their belly out and clutching their back. “Whether you are becoming a parent for the first time or the sixth time, welcoming a new life to your family system can be just as much of an exciting and stressful time for the partner who is not carrying the child,” Dr. Lea Lis, a double board certified adult and child psychiatrist and Assistant Clinical Professor at New York Medical College tells Romper. “The symptoms of Couvade Syndrome are likely the body’s response to this major life transition and it is usually experienced when you are very attached to your partner and the budding pregnancy.”
And while both heterosexual and LGBTQIA+ couples can experience Couvade Syndrome, there is something to be said for what male partners go through when their significant other is expecting. “Studies have also shown that men may have a decrease in testosterone during their partner’s pregnancy,” says Dr. Demosthenes. That could possibly contribute to your partner’s feelings of fear and anxiety.
How Is Couvade Syndrome Treated?
Sadly, there isn’t a cure for Couvade Syndrome, since it’s technically not a medical condition. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t help your partner as you go through pregnancy together. “You can encourage communication about the feelings coming up in this space,” Babita Spinelli, LP, a psychotherapist explains to Romper. “Being vulnerable, open and understanding that you are both experiencing this twin-ship of sorts can be helpful.” Most importantly, you shouldn’t shame your sweetie for their symptoms or their feelings, Dr. Lis recommends. “Encourage them to talk with friends or family members for additional support or reach out to their health care provider, if they feel it would be beneficial to discuss additional support options,” says Dr. Lis.
If you suspect that your partner might be experiencing symptoms of Couvade Syndrome, you should try to be proactive about offering them help. In another study, researchers suggest that expectant fathers should be screened for sympathetic pregnancy symptoms so that they can be their best not just for their families, but for themselves.
When Does Couvade Syndrome End?
While your sweetie might suddenly show symptoms of Couvade Syndrome at any time, it’s usually during the third trimester that they will start exhibiting unusual behavior, a PubMed study found. But there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. “Couvade typically goes away after birth or in the first few months following the birth,” Toni Coleman, LCSW, a psychotherapist and relationship coach tells Romper. “It is rare that symptoms will persist for a long time, unless complications with the birth or baby’s health occur, which could prolong it as the parent who gave birth works through their feelings and any challenges that may continue to present themselves.” And if you or your partner still struggles postpartum, you should speak to your healthcare provider to help with this life-changing transition.
Although Couvade Syndrome might seem silly or even annoying, it’s actually a sign that your partner is in sync with you and the journey you’re about to embark on together. After all, being pregnant is a huge life transition, and it can take the two of you to get through it together. So if your partner has a sudden craving for ice cream in the middle of the night (or seems to be more stressed out than usual), take the time to listen to their feelings, offer reassurance, and above all, eat the chocolate chip ice cream together.
Piechowski, B., Bogousslavsky, J. “Couvade Syndrome — Custom, Behavior, or Disease?” 2018.
Klein, H. “Couvade Syndrome: male counterpart to pregnancy” 1991.
Chase, T., Fusick, A., Pauli, J. “Couvade syndrome: more than a toothache” 2021.
Dr. Lauren Demosthenes, MD, an OB/GYN and Senior Medical Director with Babyscripts
Dr. Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, double board-certified in OB/GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine, Director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln
Dr. Lea Lis, a double board certified adult and child psychiatrist, and Assistant Clinical Professor at New York Medical College
Babita Spinelli, LP, a psychotherapist
Toni Coleman, LCSW, a psychotherapist and relationship coach