by Susan Hawkins

There you are-aching, with swollen ankles, morning sickness, cramps, mood swings and an ever-growing belly. And there he is-your rock, your strength, your support through this wondrous time-aching, with swollen ankles, morning sickness, cramps, mood swings and an ever-growing belly. What the...?

Believe it or not, his symptoms are involuntary rather than a cry for attention. Though not a recognized medical condition, there's even a name for it-Couvade Syndrome.  In the largest study of its kind, 282 expectant fathers were observed by specialists while their partners were pregnant, after which the results were compared with the physical and emotional well-being of a like number of men whose partners were not having a baby. 

Though the study never said how many of the 282 experienced symptoms, there was definitely enough data to conclude that the syndrome exists.

One man in the study said he and his wife suffered morning sickness together, and another man felt steadily worsening stomach pains that mimicked a woman's contractions. Others had back pain and extreme fatigue. Three said their stomachs appeared swollen, two piled on the weight and four claimed to have lost weight. Several experienced food cravings, dental problems, insomnia and depression, and one started fainting. 

Most men acquired the symptoms in the very early stages of their mate's pregnancy, and others lived with problems right up until the delivery. Midwives confirmed the findings, saying that men often complain of nausea during the early stages of their partner's pregnancy. 

Couvade Syndrome is also known as "sympathy pregnancy," but in a sibling syndrome called pseudocyesis, the mind tricks the body and the body tricks the mind, resulting in a false pregnancy. According to Psychology Today, though false pregnancy usually happens to women, it can also happen to children, the elderly and men. With women, doctors believe "it develops when a woman obsesses over pregnancy out of desire or fear." These women may stop menstruating, their stomachs may become distended, breasts may swell and even lactate.  In fact, many false pregnancies end when the woman goes into labor and delivers nothing.

 What should you do if your husband experiences a phantom pregnancy? There's really not much you can do except be grateful for the sympathy and understanding. Rest assured, your husband's first-hand knowledge of pregnancy has given him a new appreciation of what you endure to grow your family.