Biology of Men and Pregnancy 

There is some recent research from Canada that might shed some insight into why men do have feelings about abortion losses.

Anthropologists in primitive cultures have long recognized that in certain societies men experience symptoms of pregnancy with their wives. It is called couvade. Couvade has a long history. The word comes from the French verb couver, which means “to hatch or to brood . . .” Estimates are that 20% to 90% of men may have this experience in western culture.

It is possible that it would be set off by the perception of pheromones (scent molecules of affiliation that send messages about our reproductive status, cause women to cycle together, help us to identify our infants, and signal our immune system information to possible mates). Pheromones play a role in sexual attraction and it seems that males respond to the scent of a fertile woman by elevated testosterone and arousal, but that males also seem to be able to perceive a non-fertile female, which would include a pregnant woman.

The bottom line is that something seems to signal her state to her partner and perhaps his body responds hormonally to the message. He has symptoms with his partner and 20% of these men are quite sick. They complain of nausea, vomiting, headaches, back aches, tooth aches, not sleeping well and being anxious, food cravings and weight. These 20% of fathers may seek out a doctor. But in our culture doctors have never heard of this, though it was well known and recognized in primitive cultures. The doctor assures him it’s just a virus and it will go away. It does as delivery approaches.

Research has been done on the hormonal status of males whose partner is pregnant and the research outcomes are startling. Very soon after pregnancy is established he has his first hormonal shift. His cortisol is elevated. This is normally a stress hormone, but it is also a bonding and protector hormone. He’s on alert to care for and protect his partner! As birth approaches, the father of the child undergoes measurable hormonal shifts, including

  • Decreased testosterone, making him less aggressive and sexually interested;
  • Elevated estrogen, making him more relational;
  • Elevated cortisol, which seems to put him on alert that something important is happening;
  • Elevated vasopressin, a bonding hormone present during intercourse, but present now in large amounts, perhaps Mother Nature’s “sit, stay” imperative to help protect the mother;
  • And finally around the time of birth, prolactin, which is the nursing hormone in women.

It seems that the more prolactin is present, the more the father is very helpful and smiles a lot while being responsive to his infant. Research now shows that each time he becomes a father, the prolactin goes up. Nature seems to be saying there are more responsibilities and provides the additional help. Research indicates that when the hormones readjust, his testosterone never goes as high as it was in his bachelor days. And interestingly, in primate research where the male monkey helps to care for the young, they get new brain cells in the part of the brain that has to do with decision-making and planning and the cells remain until the young become independent. We don’t know if something similar happens in people, but I would hazard a guess that it might.

Men are truly changed by a pregnancy experience. Below are three articles that lay out the information in more detail. I believe that the fact of a couple’s pregnancy might trigger significant changes in the male that may impact his reaction to an abortion loss. There is much to be learned yet, but it indicates that an achieved pregnancy seems to have biological impact on the male as well as on the female. It is possible then that the loss is recognized in a deep way by the male? Much is to be discovered yet.

 


Related

The Making of a Modern Dad
Douglas Carlton Abrams, Psychology Today

Why do some men experience pregnancy symptoms such as vomiting and nausea when their wives are pregnant?
Katherine E. Wynne-Edwards, Scientific American

Stretch Marks for Dads: What fatherhood does to the body and the brain
Emily Anthes, Slate

 

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