Many modern fathers-to-be are more hands-on in their wives’ pregnancy and labour, which is probably the reason for the increasing numbers of men experiencing pregnancy symptoms when their wives are expecting.
Remember the time your pregnancy was confirmed? The delight and excitement are matched only by the anxiety of welcoming a new member into the family, more so when it is a much-awaited child.
As your pregnancy progresses, however, you begin to sense something amiss. Your spouse wakes up nauseous and dizzy, complaining of backaches and headaches.
His food cravings are just as bad, or worse than yours, often uncannily of the same food or drinks.
As your tummy grows, so does his. He may get moody and temperamental, snapping at anyone and everyone for no reason.
You might even find yourself fighting for leg space, as you battle to get comfortable on the couch or bed with heartburn, abdominal pains or leg cramps!
Is his pain and discomfort for real? Yes, say the experts. Your spouse is probably experiencing what is known as Couvade Syndrome.
Sharing the ‘burden’
Couvade comes from the French word couver, which means to hatch. As couples marry at later ages and have fewer children, each pregnancy and birth becomes more precious than the days of yore featuring larger families.
Many modern fathers-to-be are also more hands-on in their wives’ pregnancy and labour, which is probably the reason for the increasing numbers of men experiencing pregnancy symptoms when their wives are expecting.
A recent study in Canada suggests that expectant fathers may be experiencing hormonal changes, with increases in levels of prolactin, cortisol, oestrogen and testosterone. These hormones are believed to help him mentally prepare for fatherhood, making him more willing to care for the baby.
The drastic changes to his mood, behaviour and physical condition are attributed to such hormonal turbulence.
Experts estimate that approximately 10% of men will experience Couvade Syndrome, with some studies suggesting that the symptoms are worse in couples who are facing fertility problems or when the man is an adopted child.
The severity of the symptoms may vary, although most men do not get the full-blown symptoms such as breathlessness, Braxton-Hicks contractions nearing birth, heat spells or difficulty sleeping.
In the most severe of cases, the male partner may actually get abdominal spasms akin to labour pain when their wives are in the delivery room.
The condition is often referred to as a “sympathetic pregnancy”, where the spouse feels so much empathy for the condition of his (pregnant) wife that he starts developing similar complaints.
You can call it a classic case of being one at heart.
Symptoms typically begin in the first trimester and become more severe as the pregnancy progresses.
Although some women find it cute or funny having their spouses literally sharing the pregnancy, others find it annoying and disconcerting.
Some women accuse their spouse of attention-seeking at a time when they themselves are in need of some comforting; others are simply irritated to be fighting with their spouses for the food of their craving or more space on the bed/sofa.
Couples having their first baby are most likely to quarrel, both seemingly trying to outdo each other in weight gain, vomiting, headaches, stomach pains and body aches.
Fortunately, couples who have had several children will know that the syndrome is a normal part of a marriage, a sort of rite of passage for couples on their journey to parenthood.
So what can you do?
The first thing to do is to recognise that your spouse’s distress is real and not imaginary or sensationalised. Remember, he is suffering from Couvade because of his deep love for you.
In the bigger picture, the Couvade Syndrome actually preps a couple for the new life they will face after the baby comes along. Once you start a family, the needs of the baby will come first and a shift of priorities is necessary.
Both husband and wife will need to be more tolerant, understanding and resilient to get through the midnight feedings, nappy changes, crying and caring of the new member to the family.
It will require a lot of coordination, empathy and emotional support, so Couvade’s is probably a good way to begin practising!
The best way to get through this is simply communication. Often, fights occur when there is a communication breakdown over the simplest of things, such as eating your spouse’s share of chocolate chip cookies or deciding who should do the dishes after dinner.
And since you’re going through the pregnancy “together”, why not make it fun? Help each other put on the stretch mark cream, take turns doing foot or back rubs on each other, and nag one another about good nutrition and exercise.
The good news is that the condition is temporary and will be “cured” once the baby is born. In the meantime, pass the barf bag and assam boi, and count down to your delivery date together!
Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). For further information, visit primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.