Couvade Syndrome: What Can It Tell Us about Obesity?
Couvade Syndrome – often referred to as sympathetic pregnancy or male pregnancy – associates with weight gain. Most articles on the subject argue that the cause of this weight gain is behavioral. Men who attend to pregnant woman adopt their behaviors -- such as eating more -- and thus they gain weight because they're consuming more calories than they normally would.
We believe this explanation because the Caloric Balance Hypothesis tells us that excess calories drive weight gain.
But according to the Lipophilia Hypothesis, we fatten due to hormonal and physiological factors. Maybe something about being around a pregnant woman changes your level of hormones, which in turn changes the way your body stores fat. For instance, changes in sex hormone levels might change the amount of insulin you secrete. Since insulin regulates fat accumulation, changes in insulin levels might lead to changes in the constitution of the fat tissue, which in turn could drive changes in caloric balance.
So what might observations tell us about Couvade Syndrome?
1. Let's look at this article: "Is there a physiological basis for the Couvade and onset of paternal care?"
In this article, the authors acknowledge that researchers – including anthropologists and sociologists – "have provided explanations for behavioral changes in "pregnant" men in terms of cultural pressure, intrapsychic processes and psychosocial adaptation to a new situation." The authors pose a different hypothesis – that there might be: "a physiological basis for the Couvade's Syndrome."
Unfortunately, the rest of the article is not available for free, so we can't take a closer look at the authors' conclusions.
2. Let's review this article from pregnancy.org: "Men fall pregnant too! A look at couvade's syndrome."
The authors write: "A British research firm reported that the average weight gain during pregnancy is 14 pounds – and that's by the babies' fathers."
The authors state that: "as many as 80% of all expectant fathers will experience Couvade's in some form or other."
They then try to justify this weight gain in terms of behavioral factors -- to fit in with the expectations of the Caloric Balance Hypothesis, no doubt -– so let's take a look at a different article that might shed light on what's going on physiologically.
3. From a random yahoo.com post (not exactly a credible source... we'll hopefully add more scientifically vetted sources later).
"Recent studies have shown that the male partner cohabitating with a pregnant female will experience hormonal shifts in prolactin, cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone levels: typically starting at the end of the first trimester and going through several weeks postpartum." (attribution pending)
Surely the fact that the male partner's hormone levels might change should be significant to the discussion about Couvade Syndrome and weight gain, right?
4. Evidence abounds that Couvade's occurs in other species. So to blame the weight gain on behavioral/psychological factors, you must come up with an overarching hypothesis that works -- not just for human beings but also for animals. That's a tall order. Most of us can swallow the idea that psychological factors could drive us to eat more. But animals? Really? You're going to apply Freudian theory to animal weight gain? How? Why? What's the justification?
The much simpler and obvious hypothesis is that changes to the father-to-be's hormonal balance effect changes to the physiology of his fat tissue. Changes to the balance of catabolic and anabolic hormones precipitate increased insulin secretion. This in turn drives the weight gain and accounts for the other symptoms of the sympathetic pregnancy. It also explains why animals experience Couvade Syndrome. Our weight is hormonally controlled – physiologically modulated. No behavioral explanations are required.
Lipophilia provides a far more robust and satisfying explanation of male pregnancy weight gain than Caloric Balance does.