in Psychiatric Eponyms

Couvade Syndrome

Also known as ‘sympathetic pregnancy’, Couvade syndrome affects biological fathers, particularly during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy, who suffer the somatic features of pregnancy.  Cessation of symptoms occurs upon birth or shortly within the postpartum period.  Rarely other relatives including children may be affected.

The syndrome is relatively common and epidemological studies report couvade symptoms in 11-36% of pregnancies predominantly affecting the gastrointestinal tract.  The commonly reportedsymptoms include indigestion, increased or decreased appetite,weight gain, diarrhea or constipation, headache, and toothache

The name derives from an ancient custom whereby a new father took to his bed to be cared for by his recently delivered wife for a defined period of time and comes from the French word ‘couver’ – to brood

There have been a large number of theories put forward to account for the origins of the syndrome.   It has most popularly been considered likely to be a somatic expression of anxiety.  Psychoanalytical theories contend that it is a consequence of the man’s envy of the woman’s procreative ability or foetal rivalry whilst psychosocial theories hold that it occurs due to the marginalisation of fatherhood and as part of a transitional crisis to parenthood. Paternal theories suggest a connection between the man’s involvement in pregnancy, role preparation and the syndrome.  Some of these theories have not been thoroughly investigated and findings are generally inconsistent.

Wikipedia – there’s some extra stuff here, but also a woeful lack of citations
Couvade syndrome equivalent? Case report Psychosomatics 46:71-72, February 2005
A critical review of the Couvade syndrome: the pregnant male Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, Volume 25, Issue 3 August 2007 , pages 173 – 189

Also check out Uncommon psychiatric syndromes – Enoch, Enoch and Ball

Write a Comment


  1. Very interesting, but not entirely convincing. 11-36%? too broad, suggesting that researchers most likely sampled unrelated phenomena (depression and anxiety comes to mind w or w/o association to the pregnancy).
    I would guess that actual rates are MUCH lower and quite rare. But anything that involves humans is possible.

  2. I go with vintage on this. I say it’s folklore. A much more interesting phenomenon is that psychiatrists exist at all.