So Sam is not experiencing any “sympathetic” pregnancy symptoms, but I nonetheless find that whole phenomenon fascinating. My baby book has this to say on the subject:

Studies show that as many as 50 percent of all fathers-to-be experience physical symptoms of pregnancy when their partner is pregnant. Couvade, a French term meaning ‘to hatch,’ is used to describe the condition in a man. Symptoms for an expectant father may include nausea, weight gain and cravings for certain foods.

Wikipedia adds that “Currently, scientists are at a loss to whether or not Couvade’s syndrome should be considered psychosomatic, as the syndrome is brought on by a psychological effect (i.e.) the pregnancy of the wife, but is often considered a form of Munchausen syndrome,” which seems very harsh, especially considering that “More recent studies have shown that the male partner cohabitating with a pregnant female will experience hormonal shifts in his prolactin, cortisol, estrogen and testoterone levels; typically starting at the end of the first trimester and continuing through several weeks post-partum.” Some men even experience labor pains.

My uneducated medical opinion is that obviously couvade is caused by the partner being affected by the pregnant woman’s hormones: 50 percent of fathers aren’t succumbing to Munchausen syndrome. Someone should do a study of pregnant women with female partners, as it would seem likely that another woman would be even more strongly affected by the hormonal “rub-off” or whatever it is that’s going on.

What’s really interesting is the various cultural patterns that have arisen to accomodate couvade. Our culture seems incredibly dismissive of the phenomenon, blaming it on “somatized anxiety, pseudo-sibling rivalry, identification with the fetus, ambivalence about fatherhood, a statement of paternity, or parturition envy,” but apparently in other times and places it’s been more socially acceptable for an expectant father to admit to experiencing pregnancy symptoms. Intriguingly, Wikipedia notes that “couvade is more common where sex roles are flexible and female power and status high.” Dunno what that says about us.

In fact, some cultures ensured that the father would endure his share of suffering. This is The Internet, so let’s resort to poorly sourced but intriguingly colorful psuedo-anthropology. This one gal who has a blog, summarizing something she read in a magazine one time, reports:


In French Guiana, the father feels his wife’s pain somewhat belatedly; he’s kept in bed, in seclusion, for about 6 weeks after his wife gives birth, after which time family members cut openings in his skin and rub his body with a ground pepper plant.

The Huichol Indian tribe of Mexico had by far the best method of making sure that men shared the pain of childbirth; a woman in labor would be laying down in a hut, and her husband would sit in the rafters above her with a rope tied around his testicles… and, when the woman had a contraction, she’d pull on the rope. If you do a search for ‘Huichol’ on the website of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, you’ll find this artwork depicting the process.

Totally great! Sam contributes that he has maybe been feeling an inclination towards balancing some eggs on his toes, but I suspect he’s just making that up to avoid the rope around the testicles.

2 Responses to “Couvade”

  • Evan Prodromou Says:

    I had some sympathetic-pregnancy symptoms (a rash, some nausea) and I don’t think it matters whether it was psychosomatic, hormonal, or a little of both. I think it’s pretty awesome to participate in a small way with the chemical-psychological pregnancy process.

    Considering how important male hormones are in the female reproductive system (e.g., moderating menstruation, “ripening” the cervix before birth), it seems unlikely that there would be no hormonal influence in the other direction.

  • Jessie Says:

    You should get Sam into lactation training…then he can nurse, too. I tried to convince Mike to do it but Janine didn’t want to share.

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