Is Your Partner Having a Sympathetic Pregnancy?

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Have you ever heard of a sympathetic pregnancy? It’s not sympathy as in someone feeling sorry to hear that you’re pregnant. (Because who would say that anyway?) No, “sympathetic pregnancy” is a term that describes different physical and emotional symptoms that your partner may begin to have that closely mimic the symptoms of your pregnancy.

Sympathetic pregnancy is also known as Couvade syndrome. Derived from the French word couver meaning “to brood” or “to hatch,” the term “Couvade” was coined by an anthropologist named E.B. Tylor in 1865 to refer to cultural rituals and taboos he documented in primitive males when their female partners were pregnant or breastfeeding.

Although Couvade syndrome isn’t a recognized disease or mental illness, research has shown that it may be more common than you might think. According to a 2004 article in Scientific American: “Across a wide range of studies — and an equally wide range of definitions of what constitutes couvade — estimates of the frequency in modern Western populations range from under 20 percent to more than 80 percent of expectant fathers.”

And there’s no reason to believe these percentages would be different if your partner is female instead of male.

Shot of a handsome young man suffering touching painful neck, sore throat for flu, cold and infection while sitting on his bed at home


Causes and symptoms

Here’s the good news: Couvade syndrome is almost always a temporary condition and not serious. Experts think that the symptoms may be caused by anxiety, stress, an abundance of empathy for you, or actual hormonal changes. Although Couvade usually affects the partners of pregnant people, it can occasionally appear in very close friends or other family members, presenting as physical or psychological symptoms, or a combination.

Pregnancy-like physical symptoms may include:

  • Weight gain or loss
  • Nausea, vomiting, and heartburn
  • Abdominal pain or bloating
  • Stomach distension
  • Constipation or gas
  • Changes in appetite
  • Genital or urinary irritation
  • Leg cramps
  • Back pain


Shot of a woman comforting her distraught husband at home


Pregnancy-like psychological symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Bizarre dreams
  • Restlessness
  • Decreased desire for sex
  • Other changes in libido

With Couvade syndrome, it can be hard to tell if someone’s symptoms are psychosomatic or not. If a visit to their health care provider doesn’t find any medical reason why your partner is experiencing certain symptoms, it can add even more stress to what is already a stressful situation.

What can help

It’s no surprise that there’s no recognized treatment for Couvade syndrome. After all, it’s not even a recognized disease or classification of mental illness. What we do know is that anxiety seems to make Couvade symptoms more pronounced, so the best thing you can do is take care of each other, keep the lines of communication open, and stay focused on having a healthy pregnancy and birth.

Common sense ways to lower pregnancy anxiety:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs
  • Exercise regularly
  • Try yoga, deep breathing, and meditation

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