How to Handle a Sympathetic Pregnancy

man kissing pregnant woman's belly

To one degree or another, many men experience sympathetic pregnancy. Although it is a real, psychological condition that occurs quite rarely, some men find themselves feeling the pains of her pregnancy in addition to some growing pains of their own.

Sympathetic pregnancies can also be called Couvade Syndrome, from the French word couver, or “to hatch.” No one knows the exact reason why men experience sympathetic pregnancy, but believe it may be caused by emotional stress brought on by seeing their wives go through the hardships of pregnancy; wanting to establish themselves as a parent even before the baby is born; or even a shift of their male/female hormonal balance. Some estimates by researches of the syndrome claim that 11% to 65% of men experience Couvade Syndrome to some degree. Many men may experience weight gain, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, back pain and even labor pains. Once the baby is delivered, most men will return to normal.

While full fledged case of sympathetic pregnancy is a real medical problem and should be treated as such, men suffering from a more common sympathetic pregnancy may have their wives rolling their eyes in annoyance. Women may feel less sympathy for their husbands when they are battling their own nausea, weight gain, cravings, mood swings and heartburn. While they want to share every aspect of their pregnancies with their significant others, they still need their husbands ready and able to help them through the hardships of pregnancy.

husband's hand on pregnant wife's belly

In mild cases of sympathetic pregnancy, many men put on weight along with their pregnant wives, sometimes gaining even more weight. This may not be due to a real hormonal issue, but rather, indulgence in all of their wife’s cravings, at strange times of the day and night. This may result in heartburn, back pain (from the new weight) and upset tummies. The stress and anticipation that is associated with pregnancy and impending parenthood can trigger mood swings, stress eating, fatigue and headaches, mimicking the same things his pregnant wife is experiencing.

There are many other more constructive ways of experiencing your own sympathetic pregnancy with your wife. If you want to be close, and support her, try the following:

  • Cravings: Your wife may have cravings — weird cravings — indulge her, but be careful about indulging too much yourself. Avoiding these typically fatty, spicy and sweet treats will help you avoid the sympathetic heartburn, weight gain and indigestion associated with sympathetic pregnancy. Keep some healthier versions of her cravings around so that you can eat alongside her without fearing the extra fat and calories. It may be a good thing — she may choose to eat healthier alongside you.
  • Exercise: If you find yourself indulging a bit too much in your wife’s pregnancy cravings, encourage her to get out for a walk with you, or take a yoga class with her. You may be surrounded by pregnant moms, but they’ll all appreciate your effort!
  • Sleep: Sleep deprivation is a common pregnancy woe. New dads may be doing their own tossing and turning due to the stress and worry of a baby on the way. They may also lose sleep because their wife is having difficulty sleeping. Make your wife comfortable, sleep in the guest room or buy a bigger bed!
  • Stress/Anticipation: You and your wife may be worried about your new baby, especially if it is your first. Support your wife and alleviate your worries by taking childbirth education classes, participate in a daddy boot camp and help your wife prepare for the baby by getting the nursery ready, getting the baby’s layette, etc. Being prepared can go a long way in alleviating the stress and associated side affects of pregnancy.

There’s not much else you can do about a sympathetic pregnancy that is a true medical condition, but for those men who just want to go through it with their wives, don’t forget that she is probably feeling a more intense version of what you’re feeling — take good care of her!

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