I’ve never understood the phrase “we’re pregnant.” Every time I see a man grasp his wife close to his side and proclaim “they” are pregnant, I have to resist the urge to roll my eyes and tell him he is not pregnant, she is. This is especially difficult to do when the man talks about his own symptoms. I have a cousin who told me her husband had worse morning sickness than she did. How is that possible? What is a sympathy pregnancy? Is it really just men trying to steal back some of the attention women get for being pregnant, or is there something more to this phenomenon?

While some don’t openly admit it, studies have indicated around 90% of fathers-to-be experience some pregnancy symptoms. Symptoms such as nausea, weight gain, swelling, exhaustion and mood swings, even abdominal pains throughout labor, are not a phenomenon reserved for our culture. In fact, there are entire cultures that pamper their men throughout the pregnancy and after birth. They believe the men suffer as much as the women throughout the pregnancy, particularly during the first trimester, and undergo physical and emotional strain during the birth. Some even send the man and his new baby to bed after birth while the mother returns to work. It is not this extreme in our culture, but this condition, referred to as Couvade Syndrome, can range from quite minor symptoms to symptoms so severe they impact the quality of a man’s life.

Researchers are somewhat confused as to the real reason behind the development of Couvade Syndrome. Many believe it is a psychosomatic condition arising from feelings of being ignored and envy during the pregnancy. Men often feel unneeded during pregnancy, and suffer from feelings of neglect and loneliness. The sympathetic pregnancy symptoms arise out of a need for the attention of their loved one. Others believe these symptoms arise in men who are deeply emotionally connected to their partners and have convinced themselves that this connection has caused them to feel what their partners are feeling. Still other studies suggest men cope with ongoing feelings of envy related to the ability of a woman to carry and deliver a child. The extent of this envy causes the men to convince themselves psychologically that they are, indeed, pregnant. Couvade Syndrome can be so pervasive some men have been known to actually lactate after the birth of their children.

Source: Munroe, Robert and Munroe, Ruth. Male Pregnancy Symptoms and Cross-Sex Identity in Three Societies, The Journal of Social Psychology, Volume 84, Issue 1, 1971.