Pregnancy Symptoms in Men Are Real—And They Have a Name

Couvade syndrome, sometimes referred to as "sympathetic pregnancy," has a wide range of possible symptoms.

Your partner may not be pregnant but that doesn't mean that they'll be completely spared from all the symptoms of your pregnancy. In fact, if you're expecting, don't be surprised if your non-pregnant partner begins complaining of pregnancy symptoms like weight gain or nausea. They may be experiencing a phenomenon known as Couvade (pronounced "koo-vahd") syndrome.

What Is Couvade Syndrome?

Couvade syndrome, also called sympathetic pregnancy, is a condition where a pregnant person's non-pregnant partner experiences symptoms that mimic pregnancy symptoms.

Read on to learn about pregnancy symptoms in men, plus the condition's causes and treatment.

businessman holding his stomach
Illustration by Parents Staff; Getty Images

Can Men Actually Have Pregnancy Symptoms?

The short answer is yes, people of all genders who aren't pregnant can experience pregnancy-like symptoms. In fact, despite not actually carrying a fetus, men whose partners are pregnant have reported experiencing a number of pregnancy symptoms from morning sickness to weight gain during their partner's pregnancy. Known as a sympathetic pregnancy or Couvade syndrome, the condition isn't well understood, but it is a recognized phenomenon.

Causes of Pregnancy Symptoms in Men

Couvade syndrome occurs when otherwise healthy people whose partners are pregnant begin to experience pregnancy-like symptoms themselves. It is not considered a mental illness or disease in the medical community, but research suggests that it may be a common phenomenon.

The statistics on how common pregnancy symptoms in men are vary wildly depending on the research—between 11% and 97%. Reflecting this lack of consensus, Kristina Mixer, M.D., OB-GYN with Spectrum Health United Hospital in Greenville, Michigan, believes the figure could be as low as 10% but as high as 65%.

Researchers call Couvade syndrome a condition of the mind and body. While there is not a great understanding of precisely what causes the symptoms to manifest, there are some theories.

Empathic responses

One hypothesis is that pregnancy symptoms in men are a physical manifestation of empathy. Researchers suspect that Couvade syndrome may be an example of the "loading phenomenon," where someone takes on another person's psychological or physical suffering.

Researchers note that the fact that Couvade syndrome is most likely to occur in those expecting a first baby and in people for which the situation produces a lot of anxiety potentially supports this theory. The syndrome is also commonly seen in people whose bond with their partner is particularly strong.


Researchers have also theorized that envy may be one origin of the syndrome. The hypothesis suggests that an unrealized need to create life or a subconscious sense of rivalry with the fetus could mean that sympathetic pregnancy symptoms perhaps mask unconscious hostility.

Rite of passage

Another theory is that Couvade syndrome acts as a rite of passage or preparatory ritual for non-pregnant partners. The more a partner prepares for parenthood—including participating in prenatal classes—the likelier they are to experience symptoms of Couvade syndrome.

This paternal transitional theory proposes that impending fatherhood—especially first-time fatherhood—involves highly disruptive interpersonal struggles. These mixed emotions and identities evoked by their partner's pregnancy—from feelings of pride to feeling trapped and everything in between—can mess with their mind and body.

Changing hormones

And despite the absence of research dedicated to this subject, the syndrome also appears to have some association with fluctuations in certain hormones, including testosterone levels, during a partner's pregnancy.

Symptoms of Couvade Syndrome

Couvade syndrome tends to occur in the first or third trimester of pregnancy and typically stops after childbirth. Symptoms of Couvade syndrome may include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Flatulence
  • Appetite changes
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Toothaches
  • Skin problems
  • Leg cramps
  • Fainting or weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

In addition to physical symptoms, some people experience psychological symptoms like depression and anxiety.

Some symptoms associated with Couvade syndrome may be entirely circumstantial, of course. For example, if the pregnant person does most of the shopping and cooking while pregnant, their food choices can have spillover effects on their partner, such as weight gain, heartburn, and indigestion. In addition, expecting a child shakes up established routines, which can naturally lead to unanticipated physical and emotional changes.

Dr. Gottesfeld also thinks that Couvade syndrome doesn't necessarily cease with childbirth. That's because both the pregnant person and their partner are experiencing similar stressors, especially sleep deprivation and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. "Babies are the ultimate disruptors, and of course, both parents feel that stress."

Treatment for Couvade Syndrome

Why some people experience Couvade syndrome while others don't is not entirely understood, likely because the circumstances are too varied for a one-size-fits-all approach. There is no standard treatment for pregnancy symptoms in men, they don't have to just be endured until birth. In fact, a health care provider can help you manage specific bothersome symptoms.

Despite the lack of consensus surrounding the origins and prevalence of Couvade syndrome, the medical community does agree on one notion: When it comes to something this ill-defined and complicated, more communication is always better than less.

"It's definitely multifactorial," says Joyce E. Gottesfeld, M.D., OB-GYN with Kaiser Permanente in Denver. People have different lives and different stressors, and some might be more susceptible to hormonal changes that a partner's pregnancy can bring about.

"For me, it is important to let both the partner and the pregnant patient know that this is a known syndrome and relatively common," says Dr. Mixer. "It helps relieve some concerns and opens up communication between all parties, and is an opportunity to direct partners to seek medical care of their own if symptoms are particularly concerning."

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  2. The transition to fatherhood: A literature review exploring paternal involvement with identity theory. Journal of Family Studies. 2012.

  3. Henry Ford Health. Dad bod: How fatherhood can change dad's bodies.

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