Midwives often struggle to meet the needs of pregnant women who are lesbians, with patients reporting that the focus is often on their sexuality rather than the fact that they are expecting a baby, according to research in the November issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing.
The findings have led Swedish researchers from Linkopings University and Uppsala University Hospital to call for special training for midwives, more neutral healthcare routines and forms and special education groups for pregnant women who are lesbians and their partners.
"Ten lesbian women aged from 30 to 46 were interviewed" says lead author Dr Gerd Rondahl, a Senior Clinical Lecturer at the University. "All were open about their sexuality with healthcare staff, all had experience of antenatal care, childbirth or postnatal care in Sweden and eight of them were in a relationship with another woman at the time of the study.
"Our study showed that none of the women were offered any childbirth and parenting education and some assumed that this was because the midwife did not know how to handle two mothers rather than the mother and father unit normally seen in traditional parenting groups.
"Some reported positive experiences but others felt vulnerable and defenceless because of the way that healthcare staff reacted to them. However, the majority felt that healthcare staff focused more on their sexuality than their needs as pregnant women and prospective parents."
Other key findings from the study included:
"Since 2005 Swedish law has enabled lesbian women to undergo artificial insemination within the public health system and, like all other mothers-to-be, receive free maternity care" says Dr Rondahl, who is also a qualified nurse.
"But what this study demonstrates is that, although they are equal in the eyes of the law, pregnant women who are lesbians are not receiving the same care as other mothers-to-be. Our research underlines how important it is for midwives and healthcare professionals to be aware that not all parents are heterosexual and that it is vital to focus on the patient's needs not their sexuality.
"We would also like to see more sensitive routines and forms that take account of the fact that the other parent is not always male and special education groups where lesbian couples can focus on parenting in an atmosphere where their sexuality is not an issue.
"The greatest wish expressed by the women who took part in this study was to be treated as any pregnant woman and family would be. When they were, it increased their positive experiences of pregnancy and parenthood."
Notes to Editors
Heteronormative communication with lesbian families in antenatal care, childbirth and postnatal care. Rondahl et al. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 65.11, 2337-2344. (November 2009). doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2009.05092.x
Journal of Advanced Nursing is read by experienced nurses, midwives, health visitors and advanced nursing students in over 80 countries. It informs, educates, explores, debates and challenges the foundations of nursing health care knowledge and practice worldwide. Edited by Professor Alison Tierney, it is published 24 times a year by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, part of the international Blackwell Publishing group. www.journalofadvancednursing.com
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