Are ‘Sympathy Symptoms’ Real?

Some soon-to-be dads feel a little more sympathetic to their parenting partners than others. Like, uncontrollably sympathetic. Like, also-gained-15-pounds-in-the-first-trimester sympathetic. As it turns out, they’re very far from being alone.

Sympathetic pregnancy, also known as ‘couvade‘, is when healthy men whose partners are pregnant experience pregnancy-like symptoms. Although the differences in experience are still pretty stark, there’s a whole host of unpleasant symptoms that these expectant fathers might very well encounter.

Men who experience couvade can have purely physical symptoms, purely psychological symptoms, or a combination thereof. According to the Mayo Clinic, physical symptoms can include nausea, heartburn, abdominal pain, bloating, appetite changes, respiratory problems, toothaches, leg cramps, backaches, and urinary/genital irritations. Psychological symptoms can consist of altered sleep patterns, anxiety, depression, reduced libido, and restlessness.

Due to the subjective and difficult-to-test nature of the condition, couvade isn’t officially recognized as a mental illness or disease. Although some estimates put the percentages of men experiencing couvade as high as 80%, there is not yet a way to scientifically determine if the symptoms experienced are physiological or psychosomatic in nature. But just because it’s happening in your head doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Riley Adams of Louisiana believes he has been experiencing sympathetic pregnancy symptoms while his wife is pregnant with their first child. Despite maintaining his usual food intake, exercise habits, and daily routine, Adams gained almost 15 pounds alongside his pregnant wife.

After gaining nearly the same amount of weight as his wife during her second trimester, Adams doubled down on his efforts to shed the pounds. “I never thought I might experience this sympathetic weight gain,” he says, “especially since I maintain a strict keto diet with regular exercise. As you can imagine, it came to my great surprise when the scale began ticking consistently higher despite limiting my calorie intake and upping my exercise frequency and intensity.”

Because the exact cause of these symptoms is unknown, treating them can be equally frustrating. Many men, including Adams, decide to just wait it out. “After the last 2-3 months of attempting to drop the weight and my body resisting, I’ve accepted my new fate and hope when my wife gives birth in the fall and begins losing her extra weight, my body too follows suit.”

He’s not too stressed out, though, and has decided to lean into his paternal stature. “I’ve gained newfound appreciation for [the] dad bod and am grateful to have an excuse of actually getting this look while becoming a dad.”