The Couvade Syndrome


An investigation was carried out of certain aspects of the health of 327 husbands during their wives' pregnancies. These were compared with 221 other married men whose wives were not pregnant or who had not been so during the preceding 9 months.

Assessment of the results shows that a significantly greater number of expectant fathers were affected by a variety of symptoms than were the controls. In particular they were found to suffer significantly more often from loss of appetite, toothache and nausea or vomiting. It is concluded from this survey that possibly about 1 in 9 (II per cent.) of all expectant fathers may have some symptoms of psychogenic origin in relation to their wives' pregnancies.

From the study of these and of individual cases in greater detail, it is seen that symptoms tend to occur at any time from about the third month of pregnancy onwards. Whereas they may resolve before termination, in many cases they do not cease until after labour is concluded. The symptoms which occur most often reflect a functional disturbance of the alimentary tract.

Whereas the basic cause of the syndrome is anxiety about the possible dangers of child-birth, the relationship of the symptoms to this event is not always perceived by the sufferer. In some cases the symptoms are a simple somatic manifestation of anxiety; in others more in the nature of conversion reaction.

There appear to be several underlying mechanisms at work, including ambivalence in the marital relationship, possibly parturition envy, and most important of all identification.

The relationship of the couvade syndrome to the ritual couvade is discussed.