When Love Hurts: Domestic Abuse in Pregnancy

February 23rd, 2010

Pregnancy is a time when a couple should be savoring their time together while eagerly anticipating the arrival of their new little one. Sadly for some couples, pregnancy becomes a time of increased stress and ends in abuse-both physical and emotional.

Reasons for Domestic Abuse During Pregnancy

The most common reason for abuse during pregnancy is that it is a continuation of pre-pregnancy abuse. Women who are abused prior to pregnancy are at increased risk of being abused during the pregnancy. Domestic abuse during pregnancy is also the result of:

  • Stress related to the pregnancy-especially if the pregnancy was unintended.
  • Financial concerns regarding the pregnancy, delivery and subsequent addition to the family
  • Change in the partner’s relationship, especially insecurity and/or jealousy of the father regarding mother’s divided time and increased attention to the baby.

How Common  is Domestic Abuse in Pregnancy?

The March of Dimes and other resources state rates of domestic abuse during pregnancy reach as high as 25% of all pregnancies. Abuse of pregnant women occurs in all ages, races and ethnic groups and in all socioeconomic levels.

What is Considered Abuse?

The abuse can range from name calling, verbal insults and controlling/isolating behavior to pushing, hitting, punching, kicking or choking. While emotional abuse is extremely stressful, physical abuse can be extremely harmful-even deadly to mother and baby. If you are unsure if you are in an abusive relationship, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my partner always put me down and make me feel bad about myself?
  • Has my partner caused harm or pain to my body?
  • Does my partner threaten me, the baby, my other children or himself?
  • Does my partner blame me for his actions? Does he tell me it’s my own fault he hit me?
  • Is my partner becoming more violent as time goes on?
  • Has my partner promised never to hurt me again, but still does?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are in an abusive relationship and need to get help-if not for yourself, then do it for your baby.

Effects on Mother and Baby

Abuse certainly has detrimental effects to both mother and baby. For mother, the increased and persistent stress can cause her to withdraw. She may begin missing prenatal appointments and thus not getting much needed care for herself and her baby. She may not eat well or sleep well and is at increased risk of depression. If the abuser is controlling, she may have lost contact with family, friends and loved ones. Isolation is an integral part of abuse as it keeps women from seeking and obtaining help. It also helps hide the physical signs of abuse-if there are any.

If mother has any sort of chronic disease, these will likely get worse and can cause complications for both mom and baby. Mother may not be taking necessary medications or getting necessary treatments so her overall physical health is compromised. Hence the energy and nutrients she has to give to her baby are also compromised.

The added stress is no better. When mom is stressed, so is baby. Additional stress has been linked to preterm labor,  miscarriage and even still birth.

Physical abuse is quite possibly the most dangerous form of abuse. In addition to the overall physical injuries a pregnant woman may sustain, physical blows to a pregnant woman’s belly can result in placental damage or abruption, vaginal bleeding, injury to the fetus, preterm labor or even miscarriage.

What To Do

First and foremost, if a pregnant woman (or any woman) is at risk for domestic abuse, she needs to get help.

Start by speaking with your obstetrician or midwife (if you can speak with them alone). Health care providers often have access to resources or people on their staff can help you get help.

Contact your local police department if you feel you are in immediate danger.

Find a safe place to stay where you can get help. This may be with a good friend, neighbor or family member. You may be able to get help from your church or other civic organizations. If woman’s shelters are available in your area, contact them to see if they can assist you.

Gather some of your things, especially important documents such as bank account numbers, credit card information, prescriptions, etc…Have a bag ready and easily accessible in the event you have to leave abruptly. You may even want to have them somewhere outside your home (at a friend’s home for example) in the event that you have to flee unexpectedly.

Domestic abuse during pregnancy is more common than many of us realize. However, it is not normal and need not be tolerated. Help is available from the resources below.

National Council of Child Abuse and Family Violence

Alliance for Children and Families

Stop Abuse for Everyone

National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-SAFE (7233)

This post was compiled using data from The March of Dimes, Cyberparent.com and Women’s Healthcare topics.com

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