Your partner's complaint of morning sickness during your pregnancy may puzzle you, but it is as much a mystery to medical experts. The few studies on male pregnancy-related symptoms have failed to figure out a physiological explanation for them.
Morning sickness in men can be just nausea or include vomiting. The problem is not always confined to the morning but can come and go through the day. Symptoms tend to improve by the end of the first trimester, but some men have a recurrence during the third trimester and others have symptoms throughout their partner's pregnancy.
Male morning sickness can occur alone or as part of what's called the Couvade syndrome or "sympathetic pregnancy." Neither morning sickness in men nor the Couvade syndrome is recognized as a medical diagnosis because experts don't agree that it's a valid problem.
Other symptoms of Couvade include indigestion, food cravings, fatigue, breast enlargement, and less commonly abdominal bloating, simulating a false pregnancy (pseudocyesis).
The symptoms of the Couvade syndrome is said to occur in men worldwide. A 1991 Canadian review quoted the worldwide incidence as 16-79%. The incidence varies around the world because of imprecise definition and data collection.
A review published in the Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing states that pregnancy-related symptoms are more common in the following men:
- Working class
- Partner has an unplanned pregnancy
Theories for Cause of the Symptoms
Investigators published a study of 282 British men with pregnancy-related symptoms in 2007 in the Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology. The researchers concluded that the symptoms were valid, but they were unable to find a physiological explanation for them. One proposed theory is that they are "sympathy symptoms." Others propose a psychological or a hormonal basis.
The following psychological explanations have been considered but not proven:
Anxiety over the pregnancy
Envy of a woman's ability to bear a child
Ambivalence about his future role as a father
Unresolved childhood conflicts
Unresolved Oedipal conflict
He sees the child as a rival for maternal affection
Feeling marginalized because he sees himself in a secondary role compared to the celebrated role of his pregnant partner
There is some evidence that men who are more involved in his partner's pregnancy are more likely to have morning sickness and other symptoms of pregnancy.
Some investigators propose that men might undergo hormonal changes during their partner's pregnancy that could explain male morning sickness or other symptoms of the Couvade syndrome.
A 2000 study reported in the Journal of Evolution and Human Behavior found that expectant and new fathers had changes in their hormones to a similar degree as their pregnant partners when exposed to the sounds, smells, and visual cues of a newborn. In the study, men with more symptoms of Couvade syndrome had a greater degree of hormonal changes during the pregnancy and just after delivery.
Further investigations are needed to find out if there is a hormonal basis for pregnancy symptoms in men.
When your partner tells you he is having morning sickness or other pregnancy-related symptoms similar to yours, give each other mutual support. These symptoms may give him greater insight into some of your discomforts and supporting each other will bind you closer during your pregnancy.