Couvade Syndrome: Tips for Expecting Dads

 expecting dad experiencing stomach pains with couvade syndrome

Remember your gender reveal party? Well, rewind to a few weeks earlier and let’s revisit that momentous day in your maternal story (no, not that one).

I’m talking about the day you announced to your family and friends that you were expecting! Do you remember what you told them? 

“We’re having a baby!” you may have cheered, or better yet, “We’re pregnant!”

Perhaps there is some truth to that. Of course, your pregnancy could not have happened without the help of your loving partner. But while you’re doing most of the heavy lifting and experiencing the lovely symptoms of pregnancy, dad’s got it pretty easy, doesn’t he?

Actually, according to a study performed in 2019, over a quarter and up to 60% of men experience sympathetic pregnancy symptoms, or sympathy pains during pregnancy. It is a condition called couvade syndrome. Pronounced like “koo-VAHD” (not to be confused with COVID).

There is no clear consensus on why couvade happens biologically, though a range of hypotheses have been theorized. Some mental health professionals conjecture that the physical reaction may stem from man’s jealousy that he’s unable to bear a child himself. Others suggest that dad is mentally preparing for fatherhood, which is messing with his hormonal balance, supported by lower testosterone and cortisol levels.

As a result, your husband or partner could be experiencing many of the same symptoms that you face, both physical and psychological. These symptoms include everything from abdominal pain to food cravings to morning sickness. Psychologically, your partner might be plagued by anxiety and restlessness, as well as reduced libido.

Suddenly, he’s not the only one with a pregnant wife. In fact, these symptoms can last until and through labor and delivery. No, your husband is not going through the pangs of childbirth, but he may be feeling quite a bit of discomfort, as sympathy is elevated to empathy.

However, this phenomenon tends to fade after the first trimester when your body, as a bona fide pregnant woman, begins to regulate. Once the physical and mental stressors return in the third trimester and after the baby is born, your husband may experience couvade symptoms again. Between sleep deprivation and the overwhelming responsibility of parenthood, it is very common for dad to feel stressed and fatigued.

It really is a partnership. You’re on this ride together. That being the case, it’s so important to have each other’s backs. To sympathize with your partner when they’re needing a little more support. 

Let’s talk about some tips for dealing with a few common symptoms of pregnancy for husbands:

Man clutching stomach after eating fast food, weight gain, stomach ache

1. Weight Gain

You may not be having twins, but your partner’s belly may begin to bear a striking resemblance to your own. Admittedly, not identical (but maybe fraternal?). 

Nearly half of expectant fathers gain weight during their partner’s pregnancy! There are a whole bunch of reasons why your husband could be putting on an additional 14 pounds on average.

First, there’s probably some more decadent food around now that you’ve been ordering him to buy several pints of mint chip ice cream. If mom’s already indulging, it’s tough for dad to lay off the chocolate cake.

Plus, your husband is totally on board with this whole ‘eating for two’ business. Besides, he wants to make you feel better about your weight. It’s his desire to be part of your adventure together. You’re on the same page.

It’s okay for both mom and dad to put on a few pounds over the course of this stressful yet exciting chapter in your lives. Consider devoting a little extra time to exercise, whether that means a light workout or just going for a walk with your partner. Of course, shop smart and stock the pantry with healthy snacks for when you’re both inevitably hungry at 11 pm.

Anxious father-to-be

2. Anxiety

For some men, this might be the biggest culprit of them all. And you simply can’t afford all these restless nights before the baby arrives!

Dad’s got a lot on his chest. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with being a father, a truckload of responsibility that only begins with buying and installing the best car seat. He’s worried about being a good father - perhaps he is struggling with what kind of dad he wants to be for his child.

Between caring about his future as a dad and caring for his beloved partner, your man has got a lot on his plate (see above). This doesn’t leave a lot of time for him to take care of himself.

Try to offer a little extra support to your husband or partner. You may be surprised that he’s dealing with many of the same concerns that you are. Be open with each other, and try to be mindful of each other’s heightened vulnerability and new emotional state.

The more that you talk about it and encourage your partner to confront what’s on his mind, the more he’ll feel that he’s in control of his situation. Really listen to each other, and let him know how you’re feeling, too. 

Again, going for a walk is a great way to clear your minds and refresh. Laying off coffee and other caffeine culprits is also recommended if you’re experiencing anxiety.

Dad experiencing neck and muscle pains

3. Muscle aches

Certain symptoms of couvade syndrome are explicable: for example, dad’s anxious about becoming a dad. But where are these muscle aches coming from?

And it’s not even just muscles: men are feeling joint pains, headaches, and even toothaches. Many men will experience these aches in a manner that mirrors their pregnant partner’s pains. 

Tension prevails, both physical and psychological, on the heels of this major transformation in both of your lives. While a Swedish massage might be a great temporary fix for certain body aches and pains, strong communication can go a much longer way.

There is some evidence to suggest that men who are more attuned to their partner’s feelings will experience these pains, and may even be better fathers for it.

Lower testosterone levels and higher prolactin can aid in protective paternal instincts, and men who undergo these shifts are better equipped to raise children. So not only are these changes helping dad bond with you, but they’re also preparing him for a loving relationship with your baby.

Key takeaway

Never underestimate what dad is going through. His body is likely changing, too. And he’s just as stressed as you are as you embark on this adventure of parenthood.

Just remember that these pains are not dad trying to trivialize your authentically real pregnancy. They should be a point of connection, not disaffection. It’s your partner's way of saying, “I’m truly feeling what you’re going through now”.

After all, they will strengthen your relationship and, in due time, your parental bond with your baby.

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