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What is Couvade Syndrome?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2016
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Couvade syndrome is a psychological phenomenon observed in some partners of expecting mothers where the partner experiences pregnancy symptoms. Numerous cultures have noted the presence of this phenomenon, including ancient human cultures, and a great deal of research has been conducted to learn more about its origins. As soon as the mother gives birth, the couvade syndrome usually resolves and the partner feels much better, although in some rare cases partners develop post-partum depression. The frequency of couvade syndrome varies around the world and it is difficult to get accurate statistics, as it is suspected that many cases are not reported.

This condition usually starts to manifest around the end of the first trimester. Symptoms can vary, but may include weight gain, nausea, physical discomfort, and mood changes. As a woman progress through her pregnancy, the symptoms experienced by the partner can shift. Some people even experience labor pains in the form of abdominal cramping and discomfort while their partners give birth. Usually, delivery brings about relief and the partner should return to normal.

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Researchers have noted that in some cases, hormonal changes can be observed in the partners of pregnant people, especially if the partners are close. In men, the release of hormones during pregnancy has been posited as a form of preparation to help the man ready himself for fatherhood. Hormones could explain couvade syndrome, as many pregnancy symptoms are related to the hormonal changes in the mother's body. Other researchers have attributed couvade syndrome to psychological motivations like guilt or stress.

Also known as phantom or sympathetic pregnancy, couvade syndrome will persist throughout the pregnancy in varying degrees of severity. Once the mother gives birth, the symptoms should resolve, except in cases where sympathetic development of post-partum depression occurs. Some patients have also developed nosebleeds in association with couvade syndrome. During future pregnancies, the condition may repeat itself, and it is possible to experience a different set of symptoms, just as symptoms can change for women between pregnancies.

The best treatment for this condition is management of the symptoms. Resting, gentle exercise, eating a balanced diet, and other steps taken to ease the symptoms of pregnancy can also help with this condition. Some expecting partners find it helpful to see a psychotherapist or other mental health professional to discuss fears and concerns for the pregnancy. Addressing emotional factors can sometimes help lessen the physical symptoms of couvade syndrome in addition to helping people prepare more effectively for labor, delivery, and co-parenting.

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