Man Relaxing On Sofa With Pregnant Wife At Home

Dad…this one is for you

by Janet Rourke

Have you ever found yourself going out in sympathy when your partner was pregnant and having some of these symptoms?

  • Morning sickness, nausea, appetite changes
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Cravings
  • Headaches
  • Stomach upsets including heartburn, abdominal pain, gas and bloating
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty with sleeping
  • Increased or frequent urination
  • Leg cramps
  • Back ache
  • Breast enlargement
  • Feelings of jealousy
  • Mood swings, anxiety and depression
  • Respiratory problems
  • Toothaches
  • Changes to sex drive.

You may be suffering from Couvade Syndrome.

Couvade Syndrome is usually a mild illness but can occasionally be severe and affects between 10–65% of expectant dads. It is reported in many cultures around the world. Some cultures actually have special ceremonies to actively encourage expectant dads to identify more with their partners and take on some of the female roles during pregnancy and early parenting in a culturally appropriate way.

Couvade Syndrome is more common for first time dads, especially if there has been a history of infertility and/ or previous pregnancy loss. There are a number of medical people who do not believe it exists, but for the sufferers the symptoms can be very distressing.

This guy describes his experience of Couvade

If you are a man reading this have a chat to your partner and let her know how you are feeling.

Stress is thought to be a major contributor to the development of Couvade Syndrome, which often presents in 1st and 3rd trimesters. These are times of major transition as couples initially adjust to the idea of being pregnant and becoming a family, and then later to the impending birth. There is a sense that there is no going back to life as you knew it. The resultant high cortisol levels can then affect other hormone production.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by your adrenal glands which sit on top of your kidneys. Cortisol is designed to help your body respond to stress or danger. It can also increase your glucose metabolism, control your blood pressure and reduce inflammation. Cortisol helps with the fight/flight response.

When you are constantly feeling stressed your cortisol levels remain high and then impact on your sex hormones, slow down your thyroid function and throws your blood sugars of balance. High cortisol levels also make it harder for your body to produce the feel good hormones like serotonin.

There has been evidence that some guys can undergo significant changes in hormones during their partner’s pregnancy, including increase of prolactin and oestrogen and reduced levels of testosterone, (which fits with the stress response theory) especially in first and third trimesters which is when symptoms are most present. More research needs to be done to clarify if it is resulting from stress or from other as yet unknown factors.

The current thinking is that Cortisol (stress hormone) impacts on prolactin production (which could cause the breast enlargement and tenderness) and can also contribute to a reduction in testosterone which then leads to an oestrogen imbalance. This could account for many of the symptoms mentioned above.

There are some psychological theories that Couvade Syndrome develops because the dad has an unconscious jealousy of woman’s ability to procreate. Another theory that has been put forward is that Couvade Syndrome may be protective as the man can more identify with his partner and want to protect her and the baby and can also indicate a high propensity for empathy and strong attachment to the baby.

Sadly Couvade Syndrome is often not recognised by medical professionals and sufferers can find it hard to get treatment for their symptoms. If you know a dad that may be experiencing Couvade Syndrome, the most effective treatment is for him to feel he is an active and vital part of the pregnancy journey. The following things can also help:

Meditation, breathing exercises, counselling, acupuncture, spending time as a couple, exercising, having a massage or other enjoyable activities. Some men may need medication to manage the symptoms. Avoiding alcohol and other recreational drugs will also help.

Dads that consciously choose to become fathers, have a positive view of their own fathers and see fathering as part of their identity are less likely to be affected. Dads that are also able to be involved in the antenatal care, talk about their hopes, expectations and fears of becoming parents, and are emotionally healthy themselves having strategies to reduce or manage other stress are also more likely to cope with the changes brought by pregnancy. Dads who already have, or develop non sexual intimacy skills with their partner find that helpful also.

Dads can build their connection with their partner and baby by attending antenatal appointments such as ultrasounds and hearing bubs heartbeat, touching their partners belly, feeling baby movements, as well as attending birth education classes and being active participants in the birthing process. These things are also hugely protective against Couvade Syndrome and help with the secure attachment between father and baby.

If you are an expectant mum reading this and you are wondering if your guy is experiencing Couvade Syndrome talk to him and encourage friends and family to do the same.

Further Reading

Handbook of infant mental health, 2009, 3rd edition, Zeneah jr,C. Editor, Guilford press,

Infancy, Infant, Family and society, 5th Edition, fogel, A; Sloan Publishing, New York

Jan Rourke is a Registered Nurse, Midwife, Child and Family Health Nurse as well as a certified counsellor and Hypnobirthing practitioner. Based on the Central Coast, with a background in perinatal and infant mental health her focus is on promoting a positive experience of pregnancy, childbirth and early parenting and securely attached infants.  Ph 0407 733 484,;

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