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Couvade Syndrome

For you fathers-to-be, these nine months of watching your partner's body go through a seemingly endless succession of changes can be stressful and affect even the most stalwart guy. In fact, some fathers-to-be are so affected, they experience symptoms of pregnancy right along with their partners, a phenomenon called Couvade Syndrome.

Although it's difficult to determine the frequency of Couvade Syndrome, some researchers estimate that anywhere from 11 to 65 percent of expectant fathers experience some symptoms. And while the symptoms of Couvade Syndrome are thought to be largely psychosomatic, they are very real for the men who are suffering from nausea, vomiting, weight gain, loss of appetite, insomnia, heartburn, headaches, mood swings, backaches, and itchy skin. Some men even report having abdominal pains while their partners are in labor. Generally the symptoms appear towards the end of the pregnancy, although they have been known to begin as early as the end of the first trimester.

No one is really sure what causes these sympathy pains, but Couvade Syndrome has been recorded throughout history in numerous cultures around the world. Some experts believe they may be a ploy to get attention. Others believe they are expressions of the anxiety, stress and fear associated with impending fatherhood, feelings of ambivalence about fatherhood, pseudo-sibling rivalry, or identification with the fetus. While still others believe that Couvade Syndrome is a display of guilt for having impregnated a partner, an assertion of paternity, jealousy of the mother's ability to carry a child and her birth experience, or empathy with the mother's discomfort.

Some experts believe that Couvade Syndrome may be occurring more frequently as society's views on fatherhood change, especially in the West. Men are now expected to take a more active role in their partner's pregnancy, as well as the birth and rearing of the child. Because he is more involved emotionally and physically, experts believe this may cause him to take on some of the symptoms of pregnancy.

However, two recent studies in Canada have shown that fathers-to-be may actually experience hormonal shifts in prolactin, cortisol, estrogen and testosterone, which may help him mentally prepare for fatherhood and perhaps be more willing to care for the baby. These hormonal changes may also account for changes in his behavior, mood, and physical symptoms.

So if you are experiencing Couvade Syndrome, rest assured that there is a cure: childbirth. The symptoms disappear almost immediately after the baby is born. In the meantime, spend this Father's Day indulging in your current craving and nursing your aching back on the couch alongside your pregnant partner; after all, misery does love company.


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