Physical, mental and reproductive health LGBTQ people during pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood 

Rainbow toy.

This interdisciplinary research project, starting in 2022 at IBL (Department of Behavioral Sciences and Learning), will follow the health and experiences of LGBTQ people during pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenthood. The results will contribute to important knowledge in an area that is unexplored both in Sweden and internationally.

A positive birth experience is a central goal

A positive birth experience is one of three central goals for Swedish birthing care, as there is growing evidence that a positive birth experience can contribute to improved health in the long term. A negative experience increases the risk of mental illness after birth, which can also affect the baby's development in a negative way. Therefore, it is central that all parents, including parents who are LGBTQ people, are given optimal conditions for a positive birth experience. Research shows that LGBTQ people describe experiences of minority stress, low trust in healthcare staff and negative consequences of hetero- and cisnormative treatment, which makes it important to examine how this affects the central life event of giving birth to one's child or standing beside when one's child is born.

Contributes to important knowledge

Through research, we already know that LGBTQ people are a group that may have higher risks linked to pregnancy, childbirth and mental health in early parenthood, as it is a group with a higher incidence of mental illness and also a higher proportion who are afraid of giving birth. But several knowledge gaps exist concerning LGBTQ people who become parents, e.g. pregnancy and childbirth complications, children’s health after birth, birth experiences, for instance around birth trauma, postpartum fear of childbirth, levels of postpartum depression and PTSD in the first year as a parent.

We also don’t know enough about how healthcare could be changed to improve the treatment and care for LGBTQ people, to create optimal conditions for parenting and health. Through this project we will learn more about this area, which is unexplored in Sweden and internationally. The research will be important to improve LGBTQ people's physical, mental, and reproductive health, and to identify what changes need to be made in healthcare for LGBTQ people to have the same conditions as others for a safe and secure pregnancy, a safe and secure birth and a chance to feel good as a new parent.

The research project consists of three different studies

The goal is to carry out three different studies. Two studies started in 2022. The first study is a longitudinal online survey. We want to follow LGBTQ people from when they are expecting a child, until the child is one year old. The first survey is done online during pregnancy. Then there is an opportunity to participate in two follow-up surveys online, six weeks after the child's/children's birth/s and after one year. The data collection has been going on since April 2022 and will continue for about three years.

The second study is an ongoing interview study, where we are interviewing LGBTQ people with difficult experiences during and after childbirth. Participants have traumatic or negative childbirth experiences and/or had childbirth complications as well as postpartum depression. We are also interviewing participants with experiences of having a child not feeling well after birth, children who needed neonatal care, and parents who lost their child intrauterine or after birth. They have shared how they felt and how they experienced the treatment they received. One psychologist's master thesis based on the first 20 informants has recently been published (Karlsson & Ulfsdotter, 2022), and two more psychologists' master theses and one midwifery master thesis are in progress.

The pending registry study will compare pregnancy and childbirth outcomes between same-sex couples who have had children through assisted reproduction and two groups of different-sex couples. This design makes it possible to compare experiences of childbirth complications, such as the level of instrumental births or emergency caesarean section, bleeding, tears and children in need of neonatal care.

An interdisciplinary project

The research leader, associate professor and psychologist Anna Malmquist at the Department of Psychology has many years of experience in research on rainbow families. The project is a collaboration between psychologists, midwives, obstetricians, and statisticians at IBL, BKV (Department of Biomedicine and Clinical Sciences) and HMV (Department of Health, Medicine and Caring Sciences).

Research on LGBTQ parents

LGBTQ people have always become parents, but with increasing rights and changing societal norms, rainbow families are becoming more visible. Research on the parenting of LGBTQ people has gone from worrying about how the children are doing, to paying attention to and caring about how rainbow families are doing in a heteronormative society. Research on childbirth and women's experiences of giving birth has also received increased attention in recent years, as has the need for increased resources for healthcare during pregnancy, childbirth and aftercare. 

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