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What is a Sympathetic Pregnancy?

By Garry Crystal
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A sympathetic pregnancy, also known as Couvade syndrome occurs when a woman's male partner feels the effects of her pregnancy. The word Couvade comes from the French word couver, meaning 'to hatch'. Although the condition is rare, it occurs in some men.

There has been much skepticism over whether this condition is real or not. Scientific research has shown that it is a real psychosomatic disorder. Nearly 80% of men with pregnant partners feel some form of the symptoms of a sympathetic pregnancy.

The symptoms are wide ranging; basically, whatever the pregnant female is going through can be experienced by the male. These symptoms can include indigestion, loss or increase of appetite, and weight gain. There have also been cases of vomiting, including morning sickness.

Other symptoms may include a change in sex drive and the food cravings that an expectant mother experiences. When the female goes into labor, the male can experience contractions and birth pains. There is only one cure for a sympathetic pregnancy, and that is childbirth. The symptoms of this condition vary from male to male. Some experience very mild symptoms, but for others, the symptoms are so severe, especially in the third trimester, that sick leave from work is necessary.

There are many theories regarding the appearance of a sympathetic pregnancy. Some experts say that it is a way for men to establish their role in the child’s life as early as possible. Some early theories concluded that it was the result of envy on the male’s part over the ability of the female to give birth. Another theory holds that this condition is a result of flexible gender roles, especially if the female is the dominant partner.

Although many of these theories are psychological in basis, there are also more physical theories. Long term male and female cohabitation can lead to an irregularity of hormones in the male. Testosterone and estrogen levels have been known to fluctuate in males, which may account for a sympathetic pregnancy.

Whatever reasons lie behind the condition, it is a very real disorder. It is also difficult for doctors to diagnose. The symptoms are easily confused with other illnesses. Many sympathetic pregnancies have been written off as depression or anxiety over the arrival of a new baby. Your doctor may need to perform a variety of tests before sympathetic pregnancy is diagnosed.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon253554 — On Mar 09, 2012

Wow. Just wow. It is unbelievable. Now I am nine weeks pregnant and my sister in law told me about this thing and I started to do research about it.

It may be right because my husband is saying every time when he comes from work, he would say I am so hungry. It has been a couple of weeks since he is being like that. I will not tell him for a while because I want to see more signs.

By anon124866 — On Nov 07, 2010

I just experienced my partner's morning sickness, and it was right after we had been kissing for an extended period of time (Her sex drive has always been high, and now even more so).

I know that when men and women kiss there is an exchange of testosterone form the male to the female, which attributes to heightened arousal in the female. I wonder if this is a similar exchange, since the female has heightened hormone levels.

Perhaps sympathetic pregnancy happens because these hormones are exchanged through kissing or other intimate contact from the female to the male.

By anon87946 — On Jun 02, 2010

It's psychosomatic; they have no control. For all I care, you can have your childbirth!

By anon82427 — On May 05, 2010

How odd. The men can't let females have anything can they.

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