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When men are "pregnant" (Couvade syndrome)
Men sometimes complain of symptoms during their partner's pregnancy that are similar to those of the pregnant woman. In science, this is called Couvade's syndrome, but this is not a recognized medical diagnosis. The causes have also been little researched.
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What is Couvade Syndrome?
The so-called Couvade syndrome is a form of a pseudo pregnancy in which men of pregnant women notice typical pregnancy symptoms in themselves. On the one hand, these can be physical symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, heartburn, changes in appetite, toothache, breathing problems or back pain; on the other hand, affected men also complain of psychological changes such as insomnia, mood swings, fears or depression. Weight gain is also typical. The symptoms of men usually occur at the beginning and towards the end of their partner's pregnancy and then go away again.
The term “couvade” (French couver: cherish, mother) comes from ethnology (ethnology) and describes rituals of traditional cultures with which fathers get in the mood for the birth of a child. In some cultures the symptoms of pregnancy are ritually acted out or imitated by men. One interpretation is that the relationship between the father and the child should be emphasized. The term “couvade” was adopted by the researchers in psychology to denote the syndrome of a “co-pregnancy”.
In contrast to such traditional rituals, the symptoms typical of pregnancy in Couvade's syndrome are not deliberately imitated by the men affected. The connection with the pregnancy of the partner is often not consciously perceived.
Studies have shown that some men not only develop physical symptoms during their partner's pregnancy, but also change certain hormone levels. The hormones prolactin and estrogen increase, albeit in much smaller amounts than in pregnant women. The level of the steroid hormone cortisol can also temporarily rise.
The level of the sex hormone testosterone, on the other hand, can drop somewhat in some men during their partner's pregnancy. However, this does not always have to be due to pregnancy: men who spend a lot of time with their child or who have long partnerships are also more likely to have lower testosterone levels than single men.
What Causes Couvade Syndrome?
It is believed that the hormonal changes mentioned support the development of a close bond with the baby and promote caring behavior. So they seem to be a kind of biological program for “brood care” and at the same time responsible for the pregnancy-like symptoms. However, this has not been clearly proven scientifically.
It is also unclear how the woman's pregnancy leads to the hormonal changes in her partner in the first place. It is assumed that there is an interaction between psychological processes and hormone levels: pregnancy is also a special time for men, full of changes, expectations and a wide variety of experiences. And these in turn can affect the hormonal balance. Biochemical signal substances that are sent out by the expectant mother could also be related.
Another theory says that the psychological challenges of pregnancy trigger Couvade's syndrome and that the symptoms are purely psychosomatic. For men, pregnancy and childbirth are special situations that bring about a change in life. The birth of a child also means new responsibilities and tasks for men. Particularly in very close and trusting partnerships, the symptoms of the pregnant woman can be unconsciously imitated. Envy of the role of motherhood was also examined as a cause.
There are many unanswered questions about Couvade syndrome. It can also simply be an indication that men are mentally adjusting to the birth and the new tasks with their child and partner. In any case, paternal engagement has a positive effect on the parent-child bond and the later development of the child.