Couvade ([kuvad]) is a term coined by anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor in 1865. It refers to rituals in various cultures that fathers adopt during pregnancy.

The practice can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, where it was a “sacred birth custom.” When a child was born, the father would undergo a ritual of “labor,” which included bed rest, fasting, purification, and observing certain taboos.

The Ancient Greek writer Plutarch mentioned a custom in Cyprus, reported by Paeon of Amathus, in which a young man would imitate the crying and gestures of women in labor to honor the myth of Ariadne, who died while pregnant.

The term “couvade” comes from the French verb couver, meaning “to brood” or “to hatch.” Its modern use stems from a misunderstanding of the idiom faire la couvade, which meant “to sit doing nothing.”

An example of couvade is seen in the Cantabri (current Spain), where the father would take to bed during or after the birth, complain of labor pains, and receive the same treatment as a woman during pregnancy or childbirth.

In Papua New Guinea, fathers built huts outside the village and mimicked labor pains until the baby was born.

Similar rituals are found in cultural groups in Thailand, Albania, Russia, China, India, and among many indigenous groups in South America.

In some cultures, “sympathetic pregnancy” aims to ward off demons or spirits from the mother or to seek the favor of supernatural beings for the child. Couvade has been documented by travelers throughout history, including the Greek geographer Strabo.

According to Claude Lévi-Strauss, the custom of couvade strengthens the family institution by “welding” together men with their wives and future children.

Home > Couvade