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Queer families and postnatal depression

Family/Whānau Support

Queer families and postnatal depression

It can happen to queer parents too…

By queer, we mean any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender parent. This is an all encompassing term that the authors have carefully considered and believe to be an appropriate term. Sometimes being a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender parent can feel like a pretty invisible position. It’s easy for people to make the assumption that because you have a baby, you are in a heterosexual relationship. The transition to becoming a parent is also rife with different kinds of issues, which may present more challenges along the way.

Conversely, becoming a queer parent may be a great opportunity to become more comfortable with your own identity, to connect more with your family of origin and to get lots of positive feedback from other people about what a great parent you’ll be. There is not a lot of research out there, but what research has been done suggests that lesbian mothers may experience slightly higher rates of symptoms of postnatal depression. Importantly, this research also suggests that there might be different kinds of reasons involved.

Risk Factors

What might be risk factors for post-natal depression in queer parents?


1. Stressful experiences with conception, such as using IVF, dealing with donor issues, negotiating parenting with lots more people involved.

2. Legal and societal discrimination making it harder to secure parenting rights.

3. Previous depression is a risk factor for postnatal depression. Research fairly consistently shows queer people are around 2.4 times more likely to experience mental illness than heterosexuals. So more of us are at risk for post-natal depression to start with.

4. Social support structures often change from being focussed on friends to focussed on families of origin when you become a parent. Some queer people have experienced difficult relationships with their families, potentially making this transition more complex.

5. Worry about social stigma and your child potentially being discriminated against.

6. If you are not the biological or birth parent, you may feel hidden and neglected in the process of having a baby. Just like dads can get postnatal depression, there’s every reason to believe that queer non-biological parents can too.


What are some advantages to being a queer parent, which might be protective when it comes to mental illness?


1. The child is often much-wanted and carefully thought about.

2. You’re more likely to have talked about how you want to parent, and what your expectations are.

3. Many people will be more excited for you because you’re doing ground-breaking new things.

4. Research suggests that although you might be worried about your children being discriminated against, very few queer parents actually report instances of this. In fact, most report being surprised by how positive others are toward them.

What helps?

What do queer parents say has been helpful for them?


1. Being out to your midwife and doctors. Try it! They’ll be more open than you think. If they aren’t, then it’s quite okay to change and find someone who is more comfortable with you.

2. Find support where ever you can. There are often groups of queer parents in the larger cities. Even if you can’t make it to meetings, you might be able to get in touch with other queer parents to talk things through.

3. Use your information and contacts to find health professionals who suit you. For example, do you know anyone connected with the health field or other queer parents who could recommend a midwife?

4. Belonging to a social network for queer families eg. rainbowfamiliesnz.org

5. Talking explicitly about how to manage role-confusion when you have two Mums or Dads.

6. Deciding in advance what you’re willing to tell people about how you created your family.

Ask for help

Most importantly, remember it’s okay to ask for help! Good places to do this include: your GP, your midwife, your local mental health services, a counsellor… And you have a right to receive treatment that is respectful of your sexual and gender orientation.


Resources to support transgender and non-binary parents

Many sexuality and gender diverse (rainbow) people will seek to build their families through the birth of their own babies. Rainbow people can face barriers to building their families and there can be little support for those in the Rainbow/LGTBQIA+* community who are interested in conception, becoming pregnant and early parenting. Rainbow people can also face stigma and discrimination, and norms and assumptions navigating the healthcare system that impact on them negatively.

Because queer, gender-diverse or trans people can be more prone to having mental health issues, resulting from the stress effects of being mistreated, disrespected and invisibilised, the journey into new parenting can exacerbate already existing mental health issues. This can happen regardless of whether someone is hapū or is the birthing partner, because parenthood is an additional significant life change, and it is important everybody receives rainbow inclusive and safe perinatal healthcare.

*LGBTQIA+: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer and/or Questioning, Asexual and/or Ally

To read more, go to our page: Supporting Rainbow Community Families


1. Bos, H.M.W; van Balen, F; van den Boom, D.C. (2004) Experience of parenthood, couple relationship, social support, and child-rearing goals in planned lesbian mother families. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Vol 45(4)
2. Gartrell, N; Rodas, C; Deck, A; Peyser, H; Banks, A.(2006) The USA National Lesbian Family Study: Interviews with Mothers of 10-Year-Olds. Feminism & Psychology. Vol 16(2)
3. Ross, Lori E (2005) Perinatal Mental Health in Lesbian Mothers: A Review of Potential Risk and Protective Factors.Women & Health. Vol 41(3)
4. Ross LE. Steele L. Goldfinger C. Strike C (2007). Perinatal depressive symptomatology among lesbian and bisexual women. Archives of Women’s Mental Health. 10(2)
5. Short, Liz (2007) Lesbian Mothers Living Well in the Context of Heterosexism and Discrimination: Resources, Strategies and Legislative Change
6. Feminism & Psychology. Vol 17(1)