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Can a Pregnancy Simulator Actually Create Empathy in Dads?

Katlyn Joy |11, March 2015


Perhaps you've seen it on TV before, the Empathy Belly. Created by the company Birthways, Inc., the Empathy Belly is supposed to be a teaching tool and part of a curriculum. The company suggests it be used in childbirth classes, teen pregnancy prevention programs, high school life skills classes, nursing or medical education programs, and as part of prenatal care.

What is the Empathy Belly?

When you strap on the Empathy Belly, you are actually putting on a complicated piece of equipment. It is an external garment that consists of a rib belt and weighted components. It specifically has two pregnant breasts, suspended weight, a pregnant belly of water, the rib belt, two lead balls, bladder pouch and a maternity smock.

The company states the Empathy Belly will create 20 symptoms of pregnancy including:

  • A body weight gain of 30 or 35 pounds, depending on the size.
  • A pregnant profile of enlarged breasts and belly.
  • Change in self image and physical image.
  • Continuous pressure on abdomen and internal organs.
  • Postural changes including pelvis tilt.
  • Center of gravity shifted; back aches.
  • Mild fetal movement and kicking simulated.
  • Shortness of breath and shallow breathing capacity; increase in temperature, pulse and blood pressure.
  • Flushing sensation and increased perspiration.
  • Awkwardness in movement.
  • Increased urination and urge to urinate due to pressure on the bladder.
  • Fatigue, restricted activity and slowed pace.
  • Changes in sexual self image and abilities.

Keep in mind the belly doesn't come cheap; it costs 0 on sale! And it's not supposed to be used for entertainment or punishment. It is a teaching tool and is to be used as part of an educational program by a trained professional.

Three fathers from the UK are now taking part in an experiment where they all are wearing the belly for a month straight, ending on March 15, which is Mother's Day in England. They only remove the Empathy Belly when showering. This is not recommended by the makers of the belly, who say a few hours max for wearing the outfit.

The three dads keep a daily diary for the duration, and share their insights on a website.

According to an associate of the men, "[They] get a lot of belly rubs from beautiful strangers, fun and excited reactions from the public and have received a lot of sympathy from colleagues, friends, and women."

However, they have their detractors. Some comments from the website include:

  • "Divorce these 3 wimps immediately ladies please."
  • "Men already have roles during pregnancy and after the birth of their children. This is just another example of the anti-male, anti-Fatherhood agenda at work in society nowadays."

However, from the Empathy Belly website we read, "As a childbirth educator, I believe that such a hands-on experience will definitely help men to better recognize what their pregnant wives are really going through, and to become more considerate towards them. I also think that the humor and fun of wearing the belly will help decrease much of the anxiety that men often feel. I highly recommend The Empathy Belly," says Pamela Shrock, a psychologist, physical therapist and childbirth educator.

So can wearing a gizmo like the Empathy Belly really create a more sensitive father; a man who will now sigh sympathetically or cry tears of pride and appreciation when you cross the finish line of labor? Will a dad place a higher value on the experience of pregnancy by getting a taste of it?

It seems unlikely if a man had no true awareness of the impact of pregnancy on a woman that a few hours being distinctly uncomfortable will permanently alter that ignorance. I also don't think many dads are foolish enough to tread any of those waters. If he wears the contraption, and complains he is a baby himself. If he wears the contraption and states it's no big deal, again, in the doghouse.

The smart dad will say something like this (in a pregnant woman's fantasy), "Honey, I don't need a fake pregnancy belly to make me understand the tremendous physical and emotional impact of pregnancy. I am in awe of your strength and grace and so very thankful that I am a man and not a woman."

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Sympathetic to a Fault? Fathers Who Experience Pregnancy Symptoms


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