Abuse During Pregnancy

Patient Education Materials

Pregnancy and Childbirth

Abuse During Pregnancy

Abuse during pregnancy is more common than most people think. About 1 in 5 women may suffer abuse when they are pregnant. Abuse can start during pregnancy or get worse.

What is abuse?

Abuse includes physical hurting, like slapping, hitting, kicking, and punching. But it also can include verbal hurting, like being called names and being accused of doing things you have not done. Abuse can also include being forced to have sex against your wishes or being made to do things sexually you do not want to do.

Abuse can include threats and control. The abuser may try to make you behave in a certain way and may say something bad will happen to you if you don’t. The abuser may try to keep you from seeing your family and friends. He or she may make you explain in detail what you do each day, where you go, and whom you see and talk to.

Women who are abused during pregnancy often feel confused and embarrassed. They ask themselves, “How can this be happening to me?” There is nothing to be embarrassed about. The abuser is to blame. Abuse is never your fault.

What sparks abuse during pregnancy?

Adjusting and adapting to a pregnancy and a new baby can be very stressful for both partners. Some reasons why abuse happens during pregnancy may include the following:

  • Your partner is angry because the pregnancy was unplanned.
  • Your partner feels anxious and angry because the baby you are having has come too soon after the last baby.
  • Your partner feels jealous of the baby. Remember: There is no excuse for abuse!

Results of abuse

Abuse affects your mind and body. Here are some of the effects it can have:

  • You may have anemia (too few red blood cells), because you are not eating right or getting enough vitamins and iron.
  • You may have bleeding during the first and second trimesters.
  • You may not gain enough weight during the pregnancy.
  • You may have more infections.
  • Your baby may be too small at birth or may be born too early.
  • Your baby may have problems after birth.
  • You may feel depressed (sad and blue).
  • You may feel anxious, upset, lonely, and worthless.
  • You may not like yourself.
  • You may be at risk for unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking or abusing drugs and alcohol during the pregnancy.
  • You may not receive important regular prenatal care.

Are you being abused?

Many women don’t want to accept the reality that they are being abused. Many just don’t realize that their partner’s actions are abusive. Here’s how to know if you’re being abused:

Does your partner:
  • Physically hurt you by hitting, slapping, grabbing, or kicking you?
  • Threaten you or talk about killing himself, you, and/or your children?
  • Seem depressed and hopeless about feeling better?
  • Keep weapons (guns, knives) in the house?
  • Keep track of all your time, where you go, and your relationships with others?
  • Tell you that there will be no future if you leave?
  • Use alcohol and/or drugs?
  • Threaten to hurt your pets or destroy your belongings?
  • Seem to be more violent as time goes on?

If you answered “yes” to 3 or more of these questions, you are probably being abused. You may be at high risk for being hurt or even killed by your partner.

Planning for your safety

Consider obtaining a Protection From Abuse (PFA) order. The PFA is a legal document granted by the Court that prohibits your abuser from any form of contact with you.

Here are ways to plan for your safety so you can act quickly if you need to get away:

  • Think of a safe place you and your children can go. Talk to someone you trust about your plans.
  • Practice how to get out of your home safely through doors, windows, stairwells, elevators, and fire escapes.
  • Remove all weapons from the home, if you can do this safely.
  • Learn the phone numbers for the local police and women’s shelter.
  • Keep an extra set of car keys or money for a bus or cab in a safe place. Make sure you can get to them quickly.
  • If you are planning to leave permanently, it will help if you have money, keys, extra clothing, and important papers ready to take with you.

At the time of a violent argument:

  • Avoid a room with only one exit.
  • If you are in danger, scream so that your neighbors can hear you.
  • If you must leave the children in the home, call police immediately after you get to a place that is safe.
  • If you have left after a violent argument, check yourself and your children for injuries, and go to the nearest hospital for care.

Effects on children

Children who grow up in the midst of violence and abuse often are deeply affected by what they witness. Protect your children, and protect yourself. Keep in mind that a partner who abuses women during pregnancy is more likely to hurt children. Seek help for your children and yourself if you are being abused.

How to get help

Contact your local women’s shelter, or talk to your doctor, nurse, midwife, or social worker about what is happening to you. These staff members know about abuse and are trained to help you in this situation. All information you give is confidential.