Couvade Syndrome: Can Men Experience Pregnancy Symptoms?

Yes, “sympathetic pregnancy” is real. Here’s what you need to know.
save article
profile picture of Dina Cheney
Updated March 12, 2024
man's hands on pregnant woman's belly, couvade sydrome
Image: Sergey Bogdanov | Shutterstock

As you anticipate baby’s arrival, you’ll likely experience a host of pregnancy symptoms, from morning sickness to an intense, insatiable need for ice cream sandwiches. But did you know that your partner might come along for the ride? Although people who are biologically male can’t technically carry babies, they can experience sympathetic pregnancy, aka couvade syndrome—physical and psychological symptoms that mimic the real thing. Read on to learn about the most common couvade syndrome symptoms and more.

What Is Couvade Syndrome or Sympathetic Pregnancy?

“Couvade syndrome is a psychiatric diagnosis where the male partner of a pregnant woman experiences ‘pregnancy symptoms’ during the pregnancy and immediately postpartum,” explains Stacey Pereira, MD, an ob-gyn and founder of Women’s Integrative Ob-Gyn in Atlanta.

Couvade syndrome is considered a psychosomatic phenomenon, meaning that its physical symptoms can happen without necessarily having a biological reason, says Ronald F. Levant, EdD, MBA, ABPP, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Akron and adjunct professor of family and community medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University. “We’ve known about psychosomatic symptoms since Aristotle and Socrates,” he says. “Humans are capable of mimicking physical illness without any organic basis.”

While science has focused on studying couvade syndrome in biological males, it could theoretically happen to any non-pregnant partner. “In theory, this could also occur with a non-pregnant same-sex partner,” says Pereira.

History of couvade syndrome

The term couvade syndrome was first coined by anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor in 1865 to describe the phenomenon of men mimicking labor pains or putting newborns to their chest to imitate breastfeeding, according to research. “The aim of such rites was to protect baby against the powers of evil and make it possible for the man to establish a supernatural bond with baby,” says Levant. He adds that “couvade” comes from the French “couver,” which means to brood or to hatch.

Related Video

In recent years, “science has lost interest” in couvade syndrome, Levant notes, adding that it’s not listed in either the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Diseases or the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

What Causes Couvade Syndrome?

Studies on sympathetic pregnancy are scant, with no definitive conclusions, says Levant. That said, some research suggests couvade syndrome happens because the non-pregnant partner is demonstrating empathy for their pregnant partner at a time of discomfort. “Reports are that it’s a sympathetic response,” Levant says. “The man is trying to experience the same symptoms his wife or partner is going through… [It’s] a way to demonstrate how connected they are.”

People with anxiety and depression are more likely to be predisposed to couvade syndrome, Pereira points out. She says the condition is often interpreted as “physical manifestations of the anxiety of the male partner surrounding the care of their female pregnant partner, and the coming care of a newborn.”

In severe cases, the reasons behind couvade syndrome could be pathological, says Pereira, “such as identifying with the fetus, competition or envy of a newborn or envy of the birth experience,” she notes. “The latter is likely born [of] childhood traumas, domestic abuse and true psychopathies such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.” It’s important to note, however, that there’s a difference between couvade syndrome and delusions of pregnancy: With couvade syndrome, the man is aware he’s not truly pregnant.

Common Sympathetic Pregnancy Symptoms

So can men experience pregnancy symptoms? Experts say yes. “Many times the couple feels these symptoms together,” says Pereira.

Physical couvade symptoms range widely and can include, according to the experts:

  • Morning sickness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Gassiness
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Food cravings
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Pain (headaches, toothaches, backaches)

Psychological couvade symptoms include:

  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Loneliness
  • Nightmares
  • Guilt
  • Resentment
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in sexual habits
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks

How Long Does Couvade Syndrome Last?

Typically, couvade syndrome symptoms start during the first trimester, says Levant. Symptoms might subside in the second trimester and reemerge during the third trimester. “There’s a natural rise in anxiety in both parents in anticipation of the birth, especially of a firstborn” toward the end of a pregnancy, says Pereira. Sometimes, the symptoms continue after delivery, she adds.

Is There Treatment for Couvade Syndrome?

Although there’s no medical treatment for couvade syndrome, if you or your partner are experiencing the condition, there are steps you can take to feel better. A few recommendations:

  • Talk it out. “It’s very important to acknowledge that anxiety [during pregnancy] is normal for both partners,” says Pereira. She says she encourages therapy—and that talking to a close friend about what you’re going through can help too.
  • Practice self-care. Pereira recommends stress-relief activities like walking outside or getting a massage. She also says it’s important to focus on wellness habits such as eating healthfully, exercising and prioritizing sleep hygiene.
  • Consider medication. Anxiety is typically treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), says Pereira. “For those who feel they’re predisposed, I encourage restarting [or] continuing SSRI medications until a few months postpartum, when both partners are more comfortable with the experience and care of a newborn,” she says.

Expectant moms need lots of TLC—and so do their partners. To help manage couvade syndrome symptoms, it’s important for both partners to address anxiety and stress and prioritize self-care.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.


The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, Couvade Syndrome: Male Counterpart to Pregnancy, March 1991

Muller Journal of Medical Science and Research, Couvade Syndrome Among 1st Time Expectant Fathers, 2014

Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, A Critical Review of the Couvade Syndrome: The Pregnant Male, July 2007

Medical Science Monitor, Couvade Syndrome Among Polish Expectant Fathers, February 2013

Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, Delusion of Pregnancy: A Systematic Review of 84 Cases in the Literature, 2015

Ronald F. Levant, EdD, MBA, ABPP, is a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Akron and an adjunct professor of family and community medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University. He is also co-author of The Tough Standard: The Hard Truths About Masculinity and Violence, and a former president of the American Psychological Association. He earned his doctorate in clinical psychology and public practice from Harvard University.

Stacey Pereira, MD, is an ob-gyn and the founder of Women’s Integrative Ob-Gyn in Atlanta. She earned her medical degree from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Learn how we ensure the accuracy of our content through our editorial and medical review process.

save article

Next on Your Reading List

young pregnant couple hugging at home
8 Romantic Ideas for Date Night Before Baby Arrives
By Nehal Aggarwal
Q&A: Husband Doesn't Like Pregnancy Belly?
Q&A: Husband Doesn't Like Pregnancy Belly?
By Dr. Pam Spurr
bindi irwin and husband expecting a baby
Pregnant Bindi Irwin Shares Pregnancy Update and Sonogram Picture
By Nehal Aggarwal
new dad holding his newborn baby close
Study Shows Which Expectant Dads May Adjust Easier to Fatherhood
By Nehal Aggarwal
lit candles as tribute to lives lost
BabyNames.Com Posts Powerful Image to Support Black Lives Matter
By Nehal Aggarwal
film stills from ferris bueller's day off and the goonies
These Are the Best Feel Good Movies of All Time, Streaming Service Says
By Nehal Aggarwal
mom's face being hidden by her baby that she's carrying
How to Prepare for the Invisible Business of Being a Mom
By Leslie Bruce
actress shay mitchell has her boyfriend wear pregnancy suit
Mom-to-Be Shay Mitchell Makes Boyfriend Wear Pregnancy Suit to Relate
By Laurie Ulster
How to Prepare Your Relationship for Baby
How to Prepare Your Relationship for Baby
By Christin Perry
pregnant couples looking into distant unhappy
6 Common Fights Expectant Couples Have (and How to Solve Them)
By Shannon Guyton
When Baby Makes Three: 11 Smart Tips for Parents-to-Be
When Baby Makes Three: 11 Smart Tips for Parents-to-Be
By Cari Wira Dineen
contemplative couple embraces in beautiful outdoor scenery
How a Couple’s Marriage Survived Their Son’s Unexpected Diagnosis
By Nicole Hannel
megan markle and prince harry, harry gives up alcohol during megan's pregnancy
Prince Harry Has Reportedly Given Up His Guilty Pleasures While Meghan Markle Is Pregnant
By Stephanie Grassullo
affectionate pregnant couple outside
A Dad-to-Be’s Guide To Having a Baby
By Daddy Nickell
meghan markle ex-husband trevor engelson red carpet event Anti-Defamation League Entertainment Industry Awards Dinner
Meghan Markle Made Her Ex-Husband Sign a Pregnancy Contract, According to Sources
By Stephanie Grassullo
Chrissy Teigen
Dad Goals: John Legend Helps Chrissy Teigen With Pregnancy Problems in the Best Way
By Sarah Hooper
dad on phone while holding newborn
A Breastfeeding App for Dads?
By Anisa Arsenault
beautifully wrapped presents
5 Hints Every Dad-to-Be Needs Before Buying a Push Present
By Mike Johnson
men celebrating man shower party
What's the Deal With 'Dadchelor' Parties?
By Lissa Harnish Poirot
How to Get Help From Your Partner Once Baby Arrives
How to Get Help From Your Partner Once Baby Arrives
By Jayme M
Article removed.
Article removed.
Name added. View Your List