Men Have Sympathetic Pregnancies, And They're Spectacular


Spectacularly weird, anyhow.

“Sympathetic pregnancy,” also known as “phantom pregnancy” and, clinically, “Couvade syndrome,” is a medical mystery that’s been baffling people since ancient times (when, allegedly, some cultures encouraged expectant fathers to take to their beds as a matter of course.) While the medical profession is still split on whether the condition is psychosomatic of a weird bit of evolutionarily-mysterious biology, it can’t be denied that expectant fathers sometimes experience symptoms ranging from cramps to cravings to backache to morning sickness and cravings. Some have been known to feel labor pains. And a baby bump.

Of course, as we know from the “hysterical pregnancy” phenomenon, the body can mirror the symptoms of expectancy to an astonishing degree. But we’d always assumed that was limited to those bodes actually, y’know, capable of the real thing. And for actually pregnant women, a little healthy skepticism is not to be wondered at: this is likely not a time when most are in the mood to cater to hypochondria. Those researchers who subscribe to the “psychosomatic camp” have a whole raft of explanations. From PregnancyToday:

in a 1994 article, a group of Italian researchers wrote that Couvade appears “to be the psychosomatic equivalent of primitive rituals of initiation into paternity.” And in a 1991 article, Dr. H. Klein of the University of Texas Medical Branch reviewed some of the possible causes of Couvade such as “somatized anxiety, psuedo-sibling rivalry, identification with the fetus, ambivalence about fatherhood or parturition envy.”

Writes Laverne Antrobus, who recently completed a documentary on the subject. “I must admit I wondered initially if men were trying to elicit attention from wives bound up with the imminent arrival of a newborn.” However, studies find that men who experience Couvade are those most likely to want to help their partners and, says one researcher, were unusually “attuned to their partners.”

While I’m guessing most women would rather have that support come in the form of a foot massage or some extra help around the house, Antrobus says a new study, conducted at Kingston University, London, suggest that Couvade’s could serve a valuable function: In her words, “they help to prepare the new father for his nurturing role.” Of the 282 expectant fathers Dr Arthur Brennan studied, some 55 per cent were manifesting some pregnancy-like symptom. As Antrobus says in the Daily Mail, “Mr Brennan believes that this was caused by elevated levels of the mothering hormone prolactin. Customarily associated with breast-feeding mothers, it was also present in these fathers.” There was also a drop in testosterone, visible when the fathers had contact with their new babies.

So, while medical science has still not recognized Couvade’s as a legit biological condition, perhaps those men going through it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand: they’re prepping for fatherhood. That said, the guy who claimed, of his wife’s labor, “my pain was worse…Her contractions were fairly strong, but she couldn’t push and as that was happening my stomach pain was building up and up and getting worse and worse” well, like that of the doctors in attendance, our attention’s going to go elsewhere.

Men Suffer From Phantom Pregnancy [BBC]
The Male Pregnancy Experience [Pregnancy Today]

Yes, Men Really DO Get Sympathetic Pregnancies… Including Weird Food Cravings, Morning Sickness And Swollen Tums
[Daily Mail]

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