What Happens When Women are Abused During Pregnancy?

Domestic violence during pregnancy increased the risk of preterm birth.


Domestic violence is decidedly not a good thing. That's particularly true when a woman is pregnant.

Researchers at the University of Iowa found that domestic violence during pregnancy greatly increased the risk of early births and low birth weight.

Domestic violence can affect the baby directly due to physical or sexual trauma. Mothers may also have increased stress or poor medical care while pregnant.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors. Domestic violence is designed to intimidate or coerce an intimate partner. The perpetrator’s behavior is deliberate and willful. Abuse typically escalates over time. Physical, sexual and psychological abuse are used to maintain power and control over the intimate partner.

"Domestic violence by a partner or ex-partner is of particular concern during pregnancy when not one, but two lives are at risk," lead author Audrey Saftlas, PhD, said in a press release. "Although rates of domestic violence differ across the world, the detrimental effects of abuse on pregnant women are very clear and we must continue to establish effective interventions globally in order to prevent violence and to support women who report abuse."

Dr. Saftlas is an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Iowa.

Dr. Saftlas and colleagues analyzed results of 50 studies on domestic violence during pregnancy. The combined studies included data on more than five million women in 17 countries.

The researchers found that domestic violence doubled the risk of early delivery and low birth weight. Low birth weight is a risk factor that may permanently affect the child's development.

Futures Without Violence reports that homicide is a major cause of death for women who are or have recently been pregnant. FWV notes women who are abused during pregnancy are also more likely to have other complications like high blood pressure.

Many local and national organizations offer services for women who have suffered domestic violence. These may include medical care, safe houses, legal help and counseling.

The study was published in the March issue of BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Information on study funding and conflict of interest was not available.