Gay Women Are More At Risk Of Postnatal Depression

Lesbian and bisexual women have a slightly higher risk of developing postnatal depression, initial studies have shown.

A study, by scientists Ross and Steele, carried out on 49 lesbian and bisexual women, who were biological and non-biological parents, found that they had more than twice the chance of suffering depression at some time in their life than heterosexual women.

The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is the most commonly used tool for gauging postnatal depression risk and found the women studied ranked just ahead of heterosexual women.

About eight to11 percent of women experience antenatal depression (depression during pregnancy) while 13 percent of women experience postnatal depression.

Education officer Lea Davidson, of King Edward Memorial Hospital’s WA Perinatal Mental Health Unit, said although there has been very little study into this area, initial findings indicated that some social factors impact on lesbian and bisexual women.

‘There is reported anxiety of social stigmatism and fear this will be directed towards the children, non engagement of the non-biological parent in obstetric care , institutional homophobia where the GP, nurse or physician automatically assumes they are heterosexual because they are pregnant, where they are denied the right to certain tax benefits family health benefits and legal barriers – where a non-biological parent has to adopt to be recognised,’ she said.

‘Although this has been a small study it was cited that more research would be helpful to highlight the disassociation of gender on the stress of adapting to the parenting role.

‘Postnatal depression for years has been considered to only affect women and researchers are only just looking at the affects on male partners.

‘Research indicates that 40 to 50 percent of male partners of women with postnatal depression will experience postnatal depression.

‘Men have to go through a similar adjustment phase but I don’t know of any research into gay male adoption.

‘A depressed person is at higher risk and it is more significant in the parenting role despite gender.’

Lesbian couples also use Assisted Reproductive Therapies considerably more in the production of their children.

‘During the treatment phase there is immense stress and this can impact on their relationship. Once there is a successful outcome there seems to be very little research done on mood and most research seems to be focused on the effects of twins or multi-births, where there is increased anxiety due to the increased risk during pregnancy and the post partum – where the stress and depression symptomatology go up because you are looking after two babies,’ Ms Davidson said.

She said in most cases first-time mums, who undertook ART, knew the likely outcome of having multiple births and seemed to manage it better than those who had already had several children.

All women however should consider the risk factors, which include:
– Past history of mental illness or depression.
– An unplanned pregnancy – where there is less time to adjust.
– Previous trauma, including sexual assault.
– Previous problems, including miscarriages.
– Previous traumatic deliveries.
And after delivery, women should seek:
– Good practical support from community, family and networks.
– Good relationships with their GP and child health nurses.
– Parenting groups or social support.
– Exercise
– Help detecting depression by reading or accessing available resources.

‘Often relationships will break up from undiagnosed postnatal depression,’ Ms Davidson said.

Joan Forward, a Clinical Services Manager at Women’s Health Service, said she had only had three gay women request treatment for postnatal depression.

She said that like all women, the relationships they had with their partners was crucial to helping them feel supported.

‘Communication with the partner is very important,’ Ms Forward said.

‘One of the women who came in had been traumatised because domestic violence was involved and working through the relationship did help lift her mood.

‘There are many predisposition factors that may influence the pregnancy and motherhood.

‘It is really important to get it right from the preconception onwards.’

She said even couples who were adopting needed to be aware of the risk of depression and to talk about it and be clear about the roles each partner will have and work out the financial pressures.

She warned that suffering depression or anxiety during a pregnancy and postnatally could have long term affects on the mother and the child.

She recommended lesbian and bisexual couples planning to have children should consult at gay-friendly clinics like Family Planning WA, Women’s Health Service and the King Edward Hospital.

Symptoms of postnatal & antenatal depression
• Low mood
• Feeling inadequate, like a failure, guilty, ashamed, worthless, hopeless, helpless, empty, or sad
• Often feeling close to tears
• Feeling angry, irritable or resentful (for example, feeling easily irritated by your other children or your partner)
• Fear for the baby and/or fear of the baby
• Fear of being alone or going out
• Not enjoying or being interested in usual activities (including sex)
• Insomnia or excessive (too much) sleep, having nightmares
• Appetite changes (not eating or over-eating)
• Feeling unmotivated and unable to cope with the daily routine
• Decreased energy and feeling exhausted
• Withdrawing from social contact and/or not looking after yourself properly
• Having trouble thinking clearly or making decisions, lack of concentration and poor memory
• Having thoughts about suicide or wanting to run away from everything

If you experience any of the symptoms below for more than a few days, talk about treatment options with a health professional.

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