3 Ways For Fathers-To-Be To Work Through A 'Phantom Pregnancy'

Believe it or not, expecting fathers can experience pregnancy symptoms too. Here's how they can cope with them.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | July 08, 2024

Sympathetic pregnancy, or couvade syndrome, involves expectant fathers experiencing pregnancy-like symptoms triggered by their partner's pregnancy. This condition, though psychosomatic, manifests with a variety of physical and emotional symptoms that profoundly affect daily life and well-being.

Common manifestations include nausea, weight gain, mood swings and physical discomfort like backaches and headaches. Sleep disturbances, appetite changes and in rare cases, labor-like pains are also reported, underscoring the deep psychological connection between expectant fathers and their pregnant partners.

Couvade syndrome is believed to result from a mix of psychological, social and physiological factors. Factors such as the emotional bond with the pregnant partner, societal expectations of fatherhood and hormonal fluctuations (like changes in cortisol and testosterone levels) likely contribute to symptom development.

As a result, expectant fathers may experience mood swings and heightened emotions due to concerns about parenting, finances and the health of their partner and baby. During this transformative time, open communication and mutual support between partners is crucial. Supporting men as they experience pregnancy-like symptoms can ease the process for both partners involved. Here are three ways to go about it.

1. Fatherhood Mentorship Program

A fatherhood mentorship program pairs expectant fathers with experienced dads who can provide guidance, advice and support, helping them navigate the new and often overwhelming journey of parenthood. Through regular meetings and discussions, mentors share their experiences, offer practical tips and provide emotional support. This connection helps expectant fathers feel more prepared and less isolated.

The programs are usually structured to include mentor matching, where expectant fathers are carefully paired with mentors based on shared interests, backgrounds and specific needs. This personalized pairing ensures that the mentor can provide relevant and meaningful support. Regular meetings are scheduled, which can be in person, virtual or a combination of both, providing a consistent and reliable platform for expectant fathers to discuss their concerns, ask questions and receive feedback. These sessions typically cover a range of topics relevant to new fathers, such as preparation for birth, newborn care, partner support and balancing responsibilities.

Beyond offering empathy and reassurance to alleviate emotional stress, mentors can provide useful tips and practical advice based on real-life experiences. This guidance helps boost the confidence and preparedness of expectant fathers, making their transition into fatherhood smoother and more supported.

2. Creative Expression Workshops

Creative expression workshops offer a therapeutic avenue for expectant fathers to navigate the emotional and psychological aspects of impending fatherhood. These workshops provide a supportive environment where fathers can explore their thoughts, anxieties and experiences through various forms of art, writing, music and other creative activities.

Guided by experienced facilitators, the activities include painting, drawing, journaling, poetry, storytelling and even movement-based exercises like dance or yoga. The benefits of these workshops are manifold: they serve as a therapeutic outlet, reduce stress and help fathers become more aware of their emotional landscape. Sharing their creative work with partners can also enhance emotional intimacy and bonding, opening up new avenues for deeper communication and mutual support.

In the process, participants might also discover new talents or interests, making the creative activities both fulfilling and a potential lifelong hobby. Guided by experts, these workshops ensure a supportive and non-judgmental environment. Some workshops may include sessions with partners and family members, making it a more inclusive experience. Follow-up sessions or ongoing workshops help compound on the benefits gained, making the journey into fatherhood more enriching and fulfilling.

3. Peer Support Program

A peer support program connects expectant fathers with others who are going through similar experiences. According to a 2024 study, in a peer support program, peers feel appreciated and act as role models, aiding new fathers in adjusting to their new roles.

Regular meetings and activities organized by the program offer consistent opportunities for emotional support, reducing feelings of isolation that many expectant fathers may experience. These gatherings provide a safe space for open discussions about the joys and challenges of impending fatherhood, allowing participants to express their fears, hopes and questions freely.

The shared experiences and mutual support within the group can be incredibly validating and reassuring, alleviating the stress and anxiety that can accompany the transition to parenthood. The sense of solidarity and shared purpose in the group builds lasting friendships and creates a network of support that extends beyond the program's duration.

The anticipation of a newborn exhausting you preemptively? Take the Parental Burnout Assessment to know if you need support.

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