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Couvade Syndrome

Overview :

The term couvade was first used by the anthropologist E. B. Tylor in 1865 to describe certain father-hood rituals performed by husbands while their wives were giving birth. These rituals were found in many different historical periods as well as various cultures around the world, ranging from ancient Greece and parts of the Roman Empire to Chinese Turkestan, the Basque regions of northern Spain, China, Thailand, Borneo, parts of Russia, and many Indian tribes in North as well as South America. In some cultures the expectant father avoids eating certain foods or handling knives or other sharp tools while the mother is in labor. In Papua New Guinea the father builds a hut apart from the rest of the village and goes to bed when his wife s childbirth begins. He then stays in bed and imitates the pains of childbirth until the baby is born. A similar custom is observed among the Basques. Couvade rituals are thought to have a number of possible purposes, depending on the specific culture:

  • To draw the attention of evil spirits away from the mother to the father instead.
  • To strengthen the emotional bond between father and child.
  • To show that the man is the child's biological father.
  • To relieve the father's anxiety while the mother is in labor.
  • To strengthen the father's relationship with supernatural beings so that he can guide the child into the world.

Ritual couvade is no longer observed in most developed countries, but the term couvade syndrome has been applied to the physical symptoms that many men in these countries experience during a wife's pregnancy, ranging from mild nausea or backaches to weight gain or toothache. One group of Italian researchers reported that the number of men who experience couvade syndrome ranges between 11 and 65 percent, while others estimate that as many as 80 percent of expectant fathers develop these symptoms. It is thought that more men in Western societies experience couvade syndrome in the early 2000s than was the case with previous generations of fathers, due in part to changes in men s involvement with the birthing process. Some doctors think that the participation of fathers in the delivery room as "coaches" or comforters is one reason for the increased number of men who develop pregnancy symptoms.

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