Complexities of the Brain; Sympathy Pain 

The human brain is very fascinating. It has remarkable capacities in terms of development. The complexities it exhibits while perceiving the world through a variety of lenses is yet another striking feature. Our brain not only controls how we perceive a certain scenario but also controls various physical and emotional responses to it. So it is no surprise that the brain is capable of surpassing the physical boundaries of a body, to reflect on the emotional pain that another person might be feeling. Sympathy pains is a term used to describe the physical or psychological hurt one can experience just by witnessing another’s discomfort. Such symptoms are predominantly noted during pregnancies. A person may start to experience similar mood swings and cramping to the pregnant lady. The medical term for such a phenomenon is Couvade Syndrome. 

What is the Couvade Syndrome

Couvade Syndrome, also known as Sympathetic Pregnancy, refers to the various physical and psychological symptoms a person experiences, which are similar to that of a pregnant woman. Such symptoms are often exhibited by a pregnant woman’s partner (or in some cases, a very close relative or friend). It’s not uncommon for them to experience symptoms that almost seem to mimic pregnancy. Usually, towards the first and third trimesters, people have been seen to experience bloating, mood swings, cravings, nausea, back pain and constipation, along with their expecting partners. 

Though this syndrome isn’t formally recognised as a disease or mental health illness, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that it is not uncommon. 

Some of the Common Symptoms

Common psychological symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • Decrease in sex drive or libido
  • Mood swings 

Common physical symptoms are:

  • Bloating
  • Pain in the abdomen 
  • Heartburn
  • Acidity
  • Nausea 
  • Stomach, back and leg cramps and pain
  • Changes in food patterns
  • Weight gain 
  • Toothache 

Possible Causes of the Syndrome

It is observed through various anecdotal evidence that there are two possible causes of Couvade Syndrome. According to an OBGYN based in San Diego, Norman Duerbeck suspects stress and empathy as the two predominant causes. 

Stress often releases certain chemicals and hormones in the body that can rise into levels mimicking those at the time of pregnancy. Stress can root in financial burdens, health concerns, cold feet, and anxiety about the capacity of proving to be a good parent. Past experiences such as dealing with infertility or miscarriages can also increase stress levels. Pregnancy is overall a joyous occasion, yet it can oftentimes also be stressful for both the parties involved. 

Stress can lower testosterone levels in men, resulting in an imbalance of oestrogen levels in their bodies. Men with an extreme manifestation of the syndrome also have high levels of cortisol in their bodies. It can seem to be effective in the short run but can be harmful. This is because it can lead to mood disorders, making the person feel low very often. It can also result in increased prolactin, which can result in physical symptoms such as breast enlargement. 

A person who is empathetic in general is also very susceptible to developing Couvade Syndrome. Pairing high levels of empathy with stress is the perfect mix for causing such symptoms..

Conceivable Explanations and Reasons 

​​- Synesthesia

Synesthesia is a phenomenon of perceptions. In this, the stimulation of a particular sensory modality causes an unrelated stimulation of another sensation. In other words, the stimulation of a sensory or a cognitive pathway leads to an involuntary stimulation of another sensory or mental pathway. While there are many types under the broad phenomenon, mirror-sensory Synesthesia deals with a person showing physical symptoms of the hurt they see through their eyes. It is like sharing the sensations of another person. Thus, this can be used to explain how the partners of expecting mothers often experience the same symptoms as the pregnant women. 

High levels of empathy 

We know that sympathy pains aren’t always an exclusive phenomenon observed during pregnancy. An individual can also feel pain on viewing another person they are close with, going through an unpleasant or painful experience. Sometimes, seeing strangers in mental anguish or being physically hurt can also make an individual not just feel empathetic, but also experience some pain owing to what they just witnessed. The bottom line is, all this has a lot to do with how empathetic of a person you are. A more empathetic person is more vulnerable to feeling discomfort in someone else’s pain than others. 

History of mood swings 

While the Couvade Syndrome is not regarded as a mental health condition, it has been recognised as a psychological phenomenon. Certain studies conducted indicate that the syndrome may be more common in people who have a history of mood disorders, and who suffer from extreme highs and lows. 

Phantom pregnancy 

Another theory states that the syndrome may show up alongside pseudocyesis or phantom pregnancy. The entire process of going through phantom pregnancy is so uncanny and the emotions are so strong, that it is intense enough to convince others of the pregnancy. Thus, people who are susceptible to developing the syndrome can do so, even despite no actual conception of a child. 


Fortunately, Couvade Syndrome is usually never serious. It is a temporary phenomenon experienced during the pregnancy months which usually gets resolved after the baby is born. Peer pressure can also lead to some people getting a better grasp over the entire situation, ultimately resolving any symptoms that they might have been feeling. However, in some cases, for a person who shows severe symptoms, therapy to manage stress and anxiety can prove to be very helpful. 

While the symptoms in themselves aren’t dangerous, it is worth knowing about them and understanding the scientific backing. A mental health professional can help you understand and guide you through the process, while also ensuring that the symptoms do not manifest into a more serious ailment such as depression or different kinds of mood disorders. 

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