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Culture & Religion

“Sympathy Pregnancy”: When Men Have Morning Sickness and Exhibit Similar Symptoms

Arthur Brennan is a senior lecturer of psychology, research methods and statistics at St George's, University of London. In a recent Washington Post article, he explains how his team of researchers came to the conclusion that male "sympathy pregnancy" symptoms are real.

I have to admit, seeing the headline “Morning sickness isn’t just for women. Expectant fathers really do get pregnancy symptoms” elicited something of a “yeah, sure, whatever” kind of reaction from this writer. The idea conjures up more memories of “Junior” than anything else. 


But the article, penned by researcher Arthur Brennan of St. George’s hospital at the University of London, does offer a compelling case for the existence of Couvade syndrome, described as “an involuntary manifestation of pregnancy in men with a partner who is expecting a baby.” Brennan, who specializes in psychology, calls it “sympathy pregnancy”:

“A range of ‘pregnancy-related’ physical and psychological symptoms include abdominal pain and bloating, back pain, pseudocyesis (euphemistically known as ‘phantom pregnancy’), lethargy, morning sickness, toothache, food cravings and aversions – many of which were confirmed in a study we carried out at St George’s hospital, in London. Prominent psychological symptoms include ante-natal depression and mood swings, early morning waking, anxiety, poor concentration, distraction and memory loss.”

Brennan explains that those psychosomatic symptoms may be caused by “an empathetic identification” with a pregnant partner or unborn child. Most theories seeking to explain the syndrome chalk it up to that emotional attachment, as well as to hormonal influences. Psychoanalytic theory suggests that latent Oedipal feelings are unleashed, or that it’s caused by a man’s envy of his female partner’s reproductive ability. 

Really, there’s not much certainly known or understood about Couvade syndrome, at least outside of this study finding it exists. Brennan and his team suggest that a lot more work needs to done in order to test the theories above. Until then, men just need to tough it out. Remember, it’s not you who actually has to have the baby.

Read more at The Washington Post

Photo credit: Halfpoint / Shutterstock


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