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They don’t actually get pregnant but they can experience a shocking number of pregnancy-like symptoms when their partner is carrying a child.
The Wall Street Journal has a great piece by Jena Pincott, author of the new book Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy:
What should a man expect when he’s expecting? To loosen his belt. About half of all expectant dads gain weight—up to 30 pounds—during their partners’ pregnancies.
And that isn’t all. A dad-to-be can expect to be slammed by at least one other pregnancy symptom, like nausea, fatigue, food cravings, odor aversions, mood swings, sleep problems or bouts of bloat. Symptoms commonly strike in the first trimester, wane in the second and return with a vengeance in the third.
This is not just some trend among modern, metrosexual Mr. Sensitive types… It’s a bona-fide biological reaction to incipient fatherhood, long hush-hushed because real men, supposedly, don’t get morning sickness.
Ms. Storey and Ms. Wynne-Edwards homed in on a hormone called prolactin. Prolactin levels rise dramatically in women during pregnancy. A Buddhist of a hormone, it slows everything down to a more meditative pace. Under its influence, fats and sugars are metabolized less effectively, which explains the weight gain.
Prolactin also arouses sweet and tender feelings by prompting pleasure hormones known as opioids. In men, it lowers the libido. When high on prolactin, you’re heavy, soft, abundant and more emotionally astute. You’re about to be reincarnated as a parent.
As Ms. Storey and Ms. Wynne-Edwards predicted, many expectant dads had prolactin concentrations that mirrored the soaring levels of their pregnant partners. The more emotionally in sync a couple was at the time of the baby’s birth, the more likely the male’s prolactin level was high. And the more elevated his levels, the more extreme his symptoms—the more weight he put on, the more crippling his nausea, the more finicky he was about food and odors.
For many expectant moms, there is good news in these findings. The fathers with a significantly higher level of prolactin—and the irritating symptoms that go with it—tended to be more attached to their newborns and more responsive to the babies’ demands than were the men with lower levels. Those who experienced couvade were the type who clucked and cooed whenever their babies cried. Fittingly, the testosterone levels of high-prolactin papas also dropped, an average of 30%, after holding a baby—arguably making them less competitive, more compassionate, and less likely to stray from their partners.
This research suggests that men have a built-in mechanism that primes them for fatherhood and family life.
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