25 January 2013

Uganda: Men's Pregnancy Symptoms More Than Just Sympathy

Fathers, did you gain weight during the period your partner was pregnant? Did you feel nauseous sometimes, or experience a change in appetite? You just might have been a victim of sympathetic pregnancy, also medically referred to as couvade syndrome.

Couvade syndrome is a condition where a man, whose partner is expecting a baby, experiences pregnancy-related symptoms.

Couvade comes from the French word couvee, meaning "to hatch". So, ladies, while some of you complain that your men do not understand the changes you undergo during pregnancy, you might want to take a closer look at your partners during this period as they too may also start to vomit, gain weight and experience the joy that comes with expecting a baby.

It is thought that more men today experience couvade syndrome than was the case with previous generations of fathers, partly due to changes in men's involvement with the birthing process. Some doctors think that the participation of fathers in the delivery room as 'coaches' or comforters is one reason for the increased number of men who develop the syndrome.


According to Dr Moses Twinomujuni of Alpha Clinic, Nakulabye, the condition could be a psychiatric disorder.

"Some people attribute the symptoms of couvade syndrome to jealousy, where a man envies his wife's ability to give birth, while others say the condition results from guilt over impregnating his partner.

Couvade syndrome is also said to emanate from rivalry, as the man regards his wife a competitor whom he must try to outperform," he adds.

The condition could also results from biological changes in the 'expectant' father, Twinomijuni explains.

A 1999 study of hormonal changes in a group of Canadian men becoming fathers for the first time reveals that the 'expectant fathers' had higher levels of estradiol (a female hormone known to influence maternal behaviour) and lower levels of testosterone (a male sex hormone responsible for the development of male secondary sex characteristics) in their blood and saliva than a control group of childless men.

The researchers caution, however, that their findings should be checked by studying groups of men from other cultures.

The researchers say the syndrome is a reaction to a changed social role; that is, it is one way that some men "work through" their feelings about assuming the social expectations and responsibilities associated with fatherhood.

It is a set of psychosomatic symptoms that is within the range of normal experience and does not indicate mental illness. Psychosomatic refers to physical symptoms that are caused or influenced by emotional factors, such as stress headache, or 'butterflies in the stomach'.


According to Twinomujuni, 'expectant fathers' may experience one or more symptoms including; weight gain, nausea and vomiting, stomach cramps, constipation or diarrhoea. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, food cravings, headaches, toothache, nosebleeds and itchy skin.

"Only a few men, however, develop the more dramatic symptoms. Some studies report that couvade syndrome is more severe during the third or fourth month of pregnancy and shortly before birth," Twinomujuni says.

Some researchers say the syndrome is more common in first-time fathers, while others reveal that it is equally likely to develop in men who already have children.


Couvade syndrome is not listed among the diagnostic conditions in the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases recent publication.

According to Dr. Vincent Byaruhanga of Friends Polyclinic, it is not described or discussed in most medical textbooks, although a few handbooks for doctors in family practice mention it in passing as a condition of unknown origin.

"Since most men with couvade syndrome experience only mild symptoms, they are unlikely to consult a doctor about the condition," he says.


There is no standard mainstream treatment for couvade syndrome. Fathers-to-be, however, can be helped by an explanation of the syndrome and reassurance that it is not rare among men.

Some 'expectant fathers' say meditation or therapies such as yoga are calming and relaxing.

One can also take peppermint tea or ginger to relieve nausea.


There is no known way to prevent couvade syndrome as experts have not identified a definite cause.

Cultural beliefs

According to Gordon Churchwell's publication, Pregnant Man: How Nature Makes Fathers Out of Men, the term couvade was first used by the anthropologist E. B. Tylor in 1865 to describe certain father-hood rituals performed by husbands while their wives were giving birth.

These rituals were found in many different historical periods as well as various cultures around the world, ranging from ancient Greece and parts of the Roman Empire to Chinese Turkestan, the Basque regions of northern Spain, China, Thailand, Borneo, parts of Russia and many Indian tribes North and South America.

"In some cultures, the expectant father avoids eating certain foods or handling knives and other sharp tools while the mother is in labour," says Byaruhanga.

In Papua New Guinea the father builds a hut apart from the rest of the village and goes to bed when his wife's childbirth begins. He then stays in bed and imitates the pains of childbirth until the baby is born. A similar custom is observed among the Basques.

Ritual couvade is no longer observed in most developed countries, but the term couvade syndrome has been applied to the physical symptoms that many men experience during a wife's pregnancy.

Whether the syndrome is real or not, what is certain is that becoming a new dad can be exciting, emotional and stressful.

To prepare for fatherhood, attend prenatal classes with your partner, seek advice and encouragement from friends and family and talk to your partner, as this may help you understand and plan for the challenges ahead.

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