Men and pregnancy – showing the symptoms

17 March 2010

Irene Lichtwark

IRENE LICHTWARK: The Waikato University student has been studying Couvade Syndrome, the name given to afflictions suffered by some partners of pregnant women.

Pregnancy can be a stressful time and often the partner of a pregnant woman gets symptoms that mirror pregnancy – food cravings and weight gain, constipation, labour pains, headaches and toothache, to name a few. It’s known as Couvade Syndrome.

Waikato University student Irene Lichtwark had a 10-week summer research scholarship to investigate the affliction that she says is common but under-researched. “There are no figures in New Zealand,” she says, “but in the US I’ve read that up to 90 per cent of men have pregnancy symptoms and depending on where you are in Europe it ranges between 30 and 60 per cent.”

Lichtwark’s research is part of a bigger study into stress in pregnancy being led by Dr Carrie Barber at Waikato. Lichtwark, who’s completing her honours year in Social Science, has been an ante-natal educator for nine years and as part of her research has been surveying would-be parents during the summer, those who are fit and well and those in hospital due to pregnancy complications.

“There are many theories as to why people, mostly men, get Couvades,” says Lichtwark. “Some put it down to anxiety for their partner, others say it’s sympathy. Some theorists blame envy, while others say it’s a man’s way of preparing for fatherhood. I think it’s wrong to put it down simply to attention seeking.”

Lichtwark says there have been cases of men having labour symptoms when they’re far, far away from their partners. “A US soldier on a tour of duty didn’t know his wife had gone into labour back home, and he turned up in the medical tent with severe stomach pains.” There have also been cases of same sex partners, mothers and mothers-in-law having Couvade Syndrome. The symptoms disappear quite quickly after the partner has given birth.

Now that Lichtwark has some indication that Couvade Syndrome is happening in the region - she surveyed from Putaruru to Otorohanga and up to Thames - she intends to talk to men who’ve suffered with it. “I think it’s important we gain a better understanding of this aspect of pregnancy. We need GPs to be better informed and it would probably help everyone involved in the pregnancy if there’s a better understanding about how and why Couvades occurs.”

Lichtwark, originally from Germany (where she was advised not to bother with university), intends to continue her tertiary study with a masters degree and possibly a PhD. She is also part of a research team that’s looking at traumatic brain injury.

Recently she was awarded a $6000 Freemasons university scholarship. The scholarships are awarded to students who are active in the community, have a good academic record, demonstrate good citizenship and leadership potential. The mother of three who lives in Cambridge has been doing volunteer work since she arrived in New Zealand 15 years ago.

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