The Couvade Syndrome: Implications of the “Pregnant” Male from a Global Perspective

Friday, 17 July 2009: 8:50 AM

Arthur Brennan, PhD, MSc, BSc, RN, PGCEA
Sylvie Marshall-Lucette, PhD, MSc, RN, RNT
Faculty of Health & Social Care Sciences, Kingston University & St George's University of London, Kingston upon Thames, United Kingdom

Learning Objective 1: to describe Couvade Syndrome as a global phenomenon

Learning Objective 2: to discuss the relevance of Couvade Syndrome in clinical practice

Purpose: The Couvade Syndrome is a global phenomenon occurring in industrialised countries around the world and has a wide international variance but its relationship with ethnicity is consistent. It affects biological fathers particularly during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy with cessation of symptoms after birth. International studies reveal a lack of clarity in the syndrome’s definition and type of measurement.  Nonetheless, a plethora of theories has been put forward to account for the origins of the syndrome but some of these theories have not been thoroughly investigated. Hence,  a two-phase study was conducted, in the UK to explore the syndrome among male partners of pregnant women. Methods:  Phase 1 comprised a qualitative phenomenological study of a purposive sample of 14 men, who were interviewed to explore the characteristics of the syndrome and explanations for it. In Phase II a structured questionnaire to assess physical and psychological symptoms of the syndrome was developed and used in an experimental group of men with pregnant partners (n =182) over the 1st and 3rd trimesters of gestation and 4-weeks into the postpartum period. This was compared with a control group (n = 181) whose partners were not pregnant.
Results: A significantly higher incidence of 26 physical symptoms and 17 psychological symptoms associated with the syndrome for those in the experimental group was found and  statistically higher median severity and distress values for the majority of physical and psychological symptoms in the experimental group.

Conclusion: Overall results of the study support the existence of the syndrome and its time course. In view of such findings, the validated study instrument has the potential to contribute to further international research on the Couvade Syndrome in a more uniform and standardised way.  Past problems with the syndrome’s diagnosis should also begin to be resolved with regression analysis identifying clear symptom predictors for its presence.