During pregnancy, 20% of future fathers notice their stomachs getting bigger. We refer to this as Couvade syndrome. So what are the causes of this “sympathy pregnancy”, and how can it be prevented?
Couvade syndrome, or “pregnant dad” syndrome, is a collection of “sympathetic” symptoms (such as nausea, cravings, weight gain, digestive problems, headaches, insomnia, mood swings, etc.) experienced by some fathers-to-be. This phenomenon is generally triggered around the end of the first trimester, and peaks in the ninth month. This “sympathy pregnancy” fortunately ends once the baby is born.
How can this “sympathy pregnancy” be explained?
By definition, a couvade is a custom in some cultures in which the father replicates the mother’s suffering in sympathy with her. In short, it is like an initiation ritual which reinforces and empowers the father to enter into his new role. The men who engage in this custom replicate the actions and habits of their pregnant partner.
Certain fathers may find it difficult to not physically “live” the pregnancy in solidarity with their partners. By putting on weight, they “transform” into fathers. Each man has his own reasons for such weight gain: worry about the baby’s health, a fear of being excluded from the pregnancy, etc. Others question themselves more deeply about their worthiness to be a father, or their abilities to be a parent.
In the past few years, another stress factor appears to be emerging: society’s expectations of men, in terms of their ability to take on the role of a parent, in order to help the mother with everyday tasks.
Yes, Couvade syndrome can be treated!
To overcome Couvade syndrome, the father can follow certain recommendations:
- Ensure a healthy lifestyle, eat fresh fruit and vegetables, exercise, drink enough water, etc.
- Get involved in preparing for the baby’s arrival, for example, by preparing the baby’s bedroom, etc.
- Take care of administrative tasks: preparing for the hospital stay, helping decide about how and when to inform people about the pregnancy, birth, etc.
- Attend ante-natal classes with their partner, accompany them to appointments and scans, etc.
- Try haptonomy, which consists of communicating with the baby via touch, to help them find their place in their new family.
Finally, there are specialists available to talk about the phenomenon and to respond to the questions of future parents.