Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Pregnant dad syndrome

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Kiwi men suffer from 'pregnant dad syndrome'. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times
Kiwi men suffer from 'pregnant dad syndrome'. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times

It is tempting to laugh at the idea that male partners of pregnant females experience some of the symptoms of pregnancy.

Logically it is hard to understand how a woman's body, which is undergoing a massive hormonal shift to make way for new life, can produce the same symptoms in a man, whose body is undergoing no such change.

But indeed, the symptoms have been well documented throughout cultures and time. And now, after a 10-week study by Waikato Univiersty researcher Irene Lightwark, we are told Kiwi men too suffer from Couvade Syndrome, colloquially known as "pregnant dad syndrome".

"Couvade" comes from a Medieval French tradition where men would take to their beds and be tended to when their wives were labouring or giving birth. The modern equivalent sees men suffer a range of things including weight gain and food cravings. The upsets are often gastro-intestinal (as they are in actual pregnancy) and are worse in the first and third trimesters (again, like the real thing).

For those tempted to chalk it up to male attention seeking, or ambivalence about impending fatherhood, studies have shown that hormonal shifts can be found in men living with pregnant women - so long as the father is the biological father.

What I would like to know is what kind of man is more likely to suffer these symptoms. The ones that I know of who have felt rough through pregnancy have tended to be the ones that bury themselves in pregnancy manuals, researching the impending birth, and being on hand to offer helpful (and sometimes not so helpful) advice when the time is right. My brother in law was one such man, whose feet actually swelled when my sister lost her ankles sometime around the eight month of pregnancy. Some I've known even have the famous hormonal dip a few days after the big event, where the high of labour and child birth can give way to waves of moodiness and sadness.

It makes a strange kind of folksy sense that a man that interested and connected in to his partner's pregnancy might also be tuned in to his partner to the extent of sharing her hormonal dips. I have not had this experience myself.

My husband took one look at the 1970s-inspired, "let it all hang out" childbirth manuals handed to me by a work colleague and turned a lovely shade of puce. He was sympathetic to the various plights of normal pregnancy, without ever really wanting to hear the details of it. To me it was normal really - I couldn't imagine my father talking about episiotomies with my mother either, or my grandfather discussing painful breasts.

My other brother in laws puts it even more succinctly. He understands and has sympathy with the pregnant woman, and can understand she has a lot of discomfort to withstand. But it's not that he has actual pregnancy pains - he has no Couvade's Syndrome; he finds pregancy painful because he reckons the pregnant woman won't stop bellyaching!

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