Couvade syndrome: Partner sympathy

Did you know in rare cases expectant dads may also feel like they are experiencing pregnancy-related symptoms? Parents-to-be, Damian and Adele, open up about their experience with sympathetic pregnancy or Couvade syndrome . 

Damian and Adele, both 32, spend a lot of time with each other. They share a home, a graphic design business, and with their first bub on the way, they’ll be sharing a lot more experiences in next to no time.

However, the one thing this busy Melbourne couple didn’t expect to share were some of Adele’s pregnancy-related symptoms. 

It all started in the first few weeks. Adele would tire more easily. And so would Damian. Adele started noticing she was putting on a bit of weight. Damian felt he piled on some extra kilos, too. And as the pregnancy advanced, Damian started to mirror his wife’s experiences even more. 

Adele, who normally enjoys regular exercise, stopped working out all together. Soon after, Damian lost the motivation to ride to work. 

“Adele’s big into fitness, she was working out three times a week. But now that’s chopped back to nothing. For me, it’s been the same thing. I usually ride to work,” Damian said. 

“We were joking around in the beginning and Adele would say, you know, ‘I’m going to put on a few kilos’. But now, I think I’m going through the same thing,” he said. 

Damian says the experience has a lot to do with stress. 

“We’ve been trying [to conceive] for a few years, and all of a sudden, life’s changing in a big way,” Damian explained. 
couple annoucing preganancy

Couvade syndrome: a global phenomenon?  

Monash University researcher Dr Irene Lichtwark says Couvade syndrome is quite common in some parts of the world but remains under reported in Australia. 

“In the US it’s up to 90 per cent.  In Europe, 11-60 per cent. It seems to happen all over the world, but the country where it’s hardly reported is Australia. I suspect it’s a matter of either not being reported, or not being reported as Couvade,” she said. 

In 2010, Dr Lichtwark investigated the trend, as part of a larger study on stress and pregnancy at the University of Waikato. She interviewed 10 New Zealand fathers, each with newborns, and observed two of the dads displaying typical Couvade symptoms.

“They would go through what the women went through. Physical stuff, like constipation, toothache, headache. Then we have the psychological symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness and changes in sleeping patterns,” she explained. 

In some other studies, men have reported food cravings, weight gain, morning sickness and even labour pains. 

According to Dr Arthur Brennan, a global expert on the topic, Couvade syndrome isn’t medically recognised as a physical or mental disorder, however the symptoms have been reported in numerous studies. 

“Collectively, these symptoms may signify an empathic identification with a pregnant partner and to the man’s unborn child, but this could also be a resolution of unconscious thoughts that might threaten both,” Dr Brennan wrote. 

Dr Lichtwark says Couvade syndrome isn’t always on the doctor’s radar, but if men are experiencing psychological symptoms such as stress, anxiety or depression, they should talk to their GP or a support group about the pregnancy and how it’s affecting them. 

Fortunately for most couples, the symptoms subside by the second trimester and should disappear soon after birth. 

For Damian and Adele, who are now entering their second trimester, the worst phase of Couvade syndrome could be behind them. 

“I think we’ll snap ourselves out of it. Adele’s going to be doing some yoga, and I’m back on the bike going to work,” Damian said.   

“I think we’re pretty easy going…and living and working together, I think we can share with each other what’s happening straight away. If you don’t, you might bottle it up.” 

“Communication’s a big thing.” 
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