Intimate Partner Violence in Pregnancy

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Sometimes women hope that pregnancy will improve a less-than-perfect relationship. The statistics show something entirely different: Intimate partner violence, also known as domestic violence, is more likely to start or escalate during pregnancy. In fact, as recently as 1998, homicide was the leading cause of death among pregnant women in the US, whereas it was the fifth leading cause of death among non-pregnant women. Some research indicates that intimate partner violence is the most common health problem among pregnant women.

About Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence is defined as real or threatened physical, sexual, or psychological harm inflicted by a current or previous romantic partner. It occurs among both heterosexual couples and same-sex couples. Between 7 and 20 percent of pregnant women experience physical violence during their pregnancies.

Contrary to some beliefs, intimate partner violence doesn’t discriminate: Women of every race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and sexual orientation can be victims of abuse.

Potential Harm to You and Your Baby

Intimate partner violence is associated with an increased risk in serious pregnancy complications, including placenta abruption (a condition in which the placenta separates from the uterus), fetal fractures, premature labor, and fetal death. Women who experience intimate partner violence during pregnancy are two to three times more likely to suffer from postpartum depression.

Another abusive act related to pregnancy is reproductive coercion, which refers to a partner interfering with birth control methods in an attempt to impregnate a woman against her will. This may include hiding or throwing away birth control pills, poking holes in condoms or removing condoms during sex, and threats of violence if the partner does not comply with wishes to continue a pregnancy.

Intimate partner violence can also affect your children, who can be injured during abusive acts, either unintentionally or by attempting to defend one partner. Witnessing this type of abuse as a child is also associated with poor health and higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Getting Help

If you are experiencing intimate partner violence, you are in a dangerous situation and should get help right away. It may seem impossible to leave or get help, but women do so successfully every day.

Keep in mind that leaving can elicit more violence, so you’ll need a strong network of support and may need a well-planned strategy.

Steps toward getting help:

  • If you are in immediate danger of being harmed, call 9-1-1.
  • For compassionate, confidential support, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The trained advocate who answers the phone can help with counseling, emergency strategies, and referrals to resources within your community. Call (800) 799-7233 or (800) 787-3224 (TTY) for the hearing-impaired.
  • Make sure to tell your health care provider so he or she can provide additional support and local resources.
  • Safe Passage is a website with resources for survivors of abuse who are pregnant or parenting.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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