Pregnancy should be a time of happiness and excitement. But for victims of abuse, pregnancy can be anything but joyous. Abuse doesn’t stop during pregnancy. For some victims, it might even get worse.
Pregnancy and Domestic Abuse: The Facts
The statistics regarding abuse during pregnancy are staggering:
- Homicide is currently the leading cause of death in pregnant women in the U.S.
- Of women who were abused before becoming pregnant, 50-75% of them will continue to experience abuse during their pregnancies.
- Domestic abuse is more common among pregnant women than is gestational diabetes or preeclampsia.
- Unexpected pregnancy makes women up to four times more likely to experience physical violence from their abusers.
- Less than half of all pregnant women are screened for sexual assault or domestic violence during prenatal visits.
Abuse Gets Worse During Pregnancy
Pregnancy is supposed to be a wonderful experience. But that’s not always the case for victims of domestic abuse. According to the CDC and the National Domestic Violence Hotline, abuse often increases during pregnancy. In some cases, partners who were not initially abusive will start abusing the mother during her pregnancy. In fact, one in six women will experience the first occurrence of abuse while she is pregnant.
Why? There are several reasons.
At its core, domestic abuse is all about power and control. When the victim is pregnant, the abuser may see this as an opportunity to exploit the mother, threaten her, or otherwise gain further control over her life. As the mother spends more time and energy focused on the pregnancy and her unborn child, the abuser may become jealous of the shift in attention.
Abusers might also be stressed about the financial and time commitments a baby will require or be upset about the mother’s body changing.
No matter the reason, abuse is never justified and is never okay.
How Does Domestic Abuse Affect the Baby?
Domestic abuse can have serious physical, mental, and emotional effects on the victim. Those effects are amplified during pregnancy, often directly or indirectly impacting the fetus.
Abuse during pregnancy is linked to:
- Increased rates of miscarriage, especially when the mother experiences physical violence.
- Decreased birth weight of babies.
- Higher chances of in-utero fetal injury or fetal death.
Additionally, women in abusive relationships are less likely to access timely prenatal care than those not in abusive environments.
Domestic abuse isn’t always physical. When a pregnant victim of abuse experiences mental and emotional trauma, her body inevitably reacts. Emotional and psychological stress cause higher blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease, among other complications, all of which can directly impact the unborn child.
More importantly, the abuse is unlikely to stop once the baby is born. Then, the child may become a victim as well.
How Can Pregnant Victims of Abuse Get Help?
Leaving an abusive relationship can be extremely difficult and frightening. Pregnant victims face an added layer of challenge. In addition to physical and emotional abuse, these women might also experience economic abuse, leaving them with few financial options to care for themselves and their babies.
It’s not uncommon for abuse victims to have “false starts,” where they intend to leave, but don’t succeed. Leaving is often a process. But the sooner a pregnant abuse victim can escape, the sooner she can find a safe place for herself and her unborn child.
If you or someone you love is pregnant and in an abusive relationship, it’s crucial to seek help as soon as possible. Tell someone you trust. Reach out to your local domestic violence shelter. Tell your healthcare provider or another trusted medical professional.