Male Pregnancy

Male pregnancy is the incubation of one or more embryos or fetuses by male members of any species. In nearly all sexually reproducing animal species, offspring are ordinarily carried by the female until birth, but in fish of the Syngnathidae family (pipefish and seahorses), males perform this function. They may possess a brood pouch on the trunk or tail (in other species, the eggs are merely attached to the male’s trunk or tail when the female lays them).

Fertilization may take place in the pouch or in the water before implantation, but in either case, syngnathids’ male pregnancy ensures them complete confidence of paternity. After implantation in or on the brood pouch or brood patch, the male incubates the eggs. Many species osmoregulate the brood pouch fluid to maintain proper pH for the developing embryos.

In at least some species, the male also provisions his offspring with nutrients such as glucose and amino acids through the highly vascularized attachment sites in or on his body. This period of incubation can take much longer than the production of another clutch of eggs by the female, especially in temperate regions where pregnancies last longer, leading to a reproductive environment in which sexual selection can be stronger on females than on males due to increased male parental investment. As a result of this reversal of traditional sex roles pipefish display classical polyandry (whereby a woman takes two or more husbands at the same time).

Biological human males do not have the anatomy needed for natural embryonic and fetal development. The theoretical issue of male ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterine cavity) by implantation in biological males has been addressed by experts in the field of fertility medicine. Robert Winston, a pioneer of in-vitro fertilization, told London’s ‘Sunday Times’ that, ‘male pregnancy would certainly be possible’ by having an embryo implanted in a man’s abdomen – with the placenta attached to an internal organ such as the bowel – and later delivered by Caesarean section. Ectopic implantation of the embryo along the abdominal wall, and resulting placenta growth would, however, be very dangerous and potentially fatal for the host, and is therefore unlikely to be studied in humans.

Gillian Lockwood, medical director of Midland Fertility Services, a British fertility clinic, noted that the abdomen is not designed to separate from the placenta during delivery, hence the danger of an ectopic pregnancy. ‘The question is not ‘Can a man do it?” stated bioethicist Glenn McGee. ‘It’s ‘If a man does have a successful pregnancy, can he survive it?” Since 2000, several hoax web sites have appeared on the Internet purporting to describe the world’s first pregnant man. While sometimes relying on legitimate scientific claims, in reality, no such experiment has ever been attested. However, female-to-male transgender people can become pregnant, while still identifying and living as men.

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