A little-known but increasingly documented phenomenon, couvade, more commonly known as nervous pregnancy, affects almost one in five future fathers. What are the reasons for this? How can fathers experience the symptoms of pregnancy?
Nervous pregnancy: similar symptoms to pregnancy
The symptoms of couvade are numerous and can be more or less pronounced. In the majority of cases, it is an unexplained weight gain. As this is most often located in the abdomen, it gives the father-to-be an even greater feeling of pregnancy. Among other physical symptoms, back pain may be experienced over time.
Other symptoms are physiological and are much less visible. Nausea, increasing tiredness and digestive problems, which are well known among expectant mothers, may appear.
Finally, unusual food cravings and mood disorders are not excluded, and may appear in the most severe cases.
These symptoms tend to appear in the first few months of their partner’s pregnancy, and develop throughout the nine months to stop, as for the mother, at term, with a peak felt in the last three months. It should be noted that nervous pregnancy can just as easily affect a woman whose partner is expecting a child.
Future fathers feel the symptoms of pregnancy
All of these symptoms, taken together, are obviously reminiscent of a normal pregnancy. Except that humans are physiologically not capable of such a thing. Scientists have therefore recently looked into the matter, and have discovered a rational explanation.
Called Sympathetic pregnancy in the US, it is in fact a physical manifestation of a psychological disorder. In other words, it is a psychosomatic phenomenon.
Psychologically, the father-to-be may feel a kind of frustration at the idea of not having the same experience as his partner. This frustration will trigger a whole cascade of physiological and hormonal phenomena.
Added to this is the often deep-rooted fear of future fathers of not being up to the task: the fear of not accompanying their pregnant partner sufficiently during this ordeal, and the fear of not finding a place in the new configuration of the family cocoon.
The body of the father-to-be therefore reacts to this new stress by adapting its hormonal pattern. Clearly, the levels of testosterone and cortisol will drop significantly. This leads the man to a more expectant calm, so that he can prepare himself for the arrival of his future child.
Progesterone levels will also fall, accompanied by an increase in the secretion of prolactin, the hormone responsible (in the mother) for lactation.
How to avoid or treat a nervous pregnancy
Psychologists and scientists agree that measures must be taken at the source of the problem. That is to say, the feelings of anxiety and uselessness that fathers-to-be may experience during the course of their partner’s pregnancy must be countered.
This starts with a frank and honest discussion with their partner about their feelings and how they are coping with this new development in their lives. Fathers-to-be need to admit and discuss their fears in order to clarify the situation, and to exorcise their deep-seated fears, which for the most part turn out to be unfounded.
The next step is to focus on something more concrete. That is, preparing for the arrival of the baby. First of all, you need to gather information to avoid anxiety-provoking questions, but you also need to get involved in changes to the household: leafing through decoration catalogues, buying childcare equipment, etc. Preparing the baby’s room for his arrival is a formative and liberating exercise. In doing so, the future father will feel valued in his role. This valorisation also involves the recognition and attention of his partner.
Finally, weight gain and back pain can easily be avoided by paying particular attention to nutrition and regular physical exercise.