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What Is Couvade Syndrome Among Expectant Fathers? Causes, Symptoms And Treatments

A child's birth alters the mutual relationships between the parents, leading to emotional reactions from both partners. According to a study, in recent years, there has been an increase in interest in fatherhood, particularly during the pregnancy period, leading to a significant physical, social and psychological impact on the expectant father. [1]

These impacts on some expectant fathers during the course of pregnancy may lead to Couvade Syndrome. The Couvade syndrome refers to physical symptoms experienced by expectant fathers during their partner's pregnancy, commonly during the first and third trimesters. It may vary in intensity and severity.

The syndrome is often regarded as a specific form of psychosis (somatic symptom disorder) that occurs during gestation and affects non-pregnant partners without them realising it. It is prevalent in around 11-65 per cent of expectant fathers. [2]

Here are the details on Couvade syndrome. Take a look.

Symptoms Of Couvade Syndrome

The term 'Couvade', French for 'to hatch' or 'to brood', was first coined by anthropologist, Edward Burnett Tylor in 1865. According to a study, Couvade's symptoms are based on two types of phenomena: ritual and modern.

The prior refers to certain practices done in ancient Greece and is still carried out by some primitive communities, while the latter refers to naturally mimicking some pregnancy-like symptoms of their pregnant partners, thinking they are pregnant too. [3]

Some of the habits or symptoms of Couvade syndrome observed by Tylor among primitive societies are:

  • A man co-participating in and imitating labour pains.
  • Imitating the behaviour patterns of their pregnant partner.
  • Ceasing their own responsibilities and regular tasks.
  • Ceasing certain male behaviours like a ban on certain food types and hunting.
  • Mimicking the actions of a woman giving birth like crying loudly.
  • After the birth of a baby, putting him/her to his own breast and trying to imitate breastfeeding.
  • Excessive stress on pregnant partner's good health and well-being.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Changes in sex drive or low sex drive.

Couvade Syndrome is associated with male empathic responses to pregnancy symptoms in female partners. Though empathy is often related to emotional and cognitive aspects, medical experts on this matter believe that it has physical aspects too.

Some physical symptoms include:

  • Gastrointestinal problems like vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Restlessness
  • Back pain
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Muscle cramps

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Causes Of Couvade Syndrome

The exact cause of Couvade syndrome is not known as the topic is mainly studied by anthropologists and sociologists, not by medical researchers. The main factors responsible for causing the syndrome could be underlying anxiety and cultural beliefs.

Couvade Syndrome And Neuroticism

Couvade syndrome refers to some mild physical and psychological changes observed by expectant fathers during their partner's pregnancy. However, sometimes it may get access and take the form of neuroticism.

In such a situation, a man starts to believe that he is pregnant. He may also start envying the ability to give birth. [4]

Some studies mention that Couvade syndrome is an act of taking the suffering of their pregnant partner by experiencing related symptoms until their partner is able to cope with their pain. [5]

How Long Do Couvade Syndrome Symptoms Last?

Couvade syndrome symptoms frequently appear in men during their pregnant partner's first trimester. The symptoms will then likely disappear in the second trimester before reappearing in the third trimester, when they will be at their worst. Couvade syndrome eventually goes away after the child is born. [6]

Risk Factors Of Couvade Syndrome

Though the risk factors of the syndrome are not well-known, some factors like the belowmentioned ones could increase the risk of Couvade syndrome. They are:

  • Lower socioeconomic status
  • Greater emotional involvement in childbirth due to past traumas.
  • Belong to certain ethnic minority groups.
  • Going to become a first-time father.

Diagnosis Of Couvade Syndrome

Couvade Syndrome is not listed in the DSM-IV or ICD-10 medical classifications, indicating that it is not a mental or physical disorder, but rather a natural phenomenon associated with a partner's pregnancy.

However, experts emphasise the importance of talking to a doctor if the symptoms are getting worse and taking a neurotic or psychogenic turn.

Treatments Of Couvade Syndrome

Couvade syndrome usually goes away soon after the baby is born. For some symptoms like diarrhoea and pain, medications or herbal remedies are suggested. Yoga and medications are also suggested to reduce anxiety and feel relaxed and happy about the partner's pregnancy.

To Conclude

If the symptoms of Couvade syndrome continue even after childbirth and are affecting the quality of life, it is important to consult a medical expert as early as possible. Also, remember that the feelings linked to parenthood can be complex and if you are experiencing it excessively, there is no shame in accepting them and consulting a therapist who can help you pass through this period.

Story first published: Friday, May 27, 2022, 8:00 [IST]
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