*If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.
*If your abuser monitors your internet history, make sure to delete it after searching about domestic violence topics.
The leading cause of death for pregnant women isn’t health complications—it’s murder.
There’s awareness for all of pregnancy’s dos and don’ts. But domestic violence is the silent killer we don’t talk about.
The uncomfortable truth is that intimate partner violence (IPV) is a bigger threat to our safety than most of us realize.
If you’re pregnant and experiencing violence in your relationship, you’re not alone. Yearly, about 324,000 women in the U.S. experience violence while pregnant—and that number is grossly underestimated. Although it’s more common than you think, it’s not normal.
Keep reading to learn about domestic violence during pregnancy and the steps you can take to keep yourself and your baby safe.
<h2>What is Pregnancy Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence is violence committed by someone close to the victim, like a romantic partner, family member, or close friend. Specifically, intimate partner violence (IPV) refers to violence committed by a romantic partner.
Research has found that up to 9% of women in the U.S. experience abuse during pregnancy. However, even that number could be underestimated since abuse in general is underreported.
Pregnant women are more likely to be murdered than die from health complications, according to experts. If you were abused before pregnancy, it might get even worse while you’re expecting. An analysis of records in 11 U.S. cities showed that men who abuse their pregnant partners are more dangerous and more likely to commit homicide during pregnancy.
IPV often follows the “cycle of abuse”:
- Tension— Relationship becomes tense. May include difficult communication or feeling things will get bad again. Victim may be fearful and attempt to appease the abuser to calm situations.
- Abuse Incident— Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
- Apology/Rationalize— Abuser apologizes, minimizes, and/or justifies abuse. They may claim it was an accident or that will never happen again. They may also claim abuse never happened and/or accuse the victim of being the “real” abuser. This common tactic is called DARVO (deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender).
- Honeymoon— Abuser is calm and back to “normal” and may try to “win” the victim with gifts or sweet words. No abuse is happening in this stage and prior abuse is temporarily “forgotten.”
Types of Pregnancy Domestic Violence: Is It Abuse?
There’s 4 main types of domestic abuse you may experience during pregnancy.
Physical abuse can include:
- Broken bones
- Throwing things at or around you
- Destroying your property
- Pulling or grabbing your arms when you attempt to leave
- Blocking you from leaving
- Preventing you from calling police
- Making threats
- Hair pulling
- Forcing you to drink, smoke, or take drugs
- Abuse incidents may be triggered by or escalate when alcohol and other drugs are involved (this is never an excuse for abuse)
- *Victims sometimes respond to physical abuse by being physical in self-defense. This does not mean the victim is also abusive. If you react in self-defense, you are still the victim, despite what your abuser may claim. Sometimes abusers taunt or force victims to fight back so they can falsely claim the roles are reversed (DARVO)
- *Not all forms of physical abuse are included here. If you’re not sure if something is abusive, talk to a therapist, doctor, or domestic violence professional.
Abusers tend to downplay physical abuse so you might not view it as abuse. For example, your boyfriend might hit you and then say, “it was just a little slap, it’s not that bad because you weren’t hurt.”
Abusers may also blame you for the abuse, saying you brought it on yourself. Abuse is never your fault and you’re not to blame. You are not responsible for their behavior.
Many people search “is it normal for my boyfriend to hit me?” or “is it ok for my boyfriend to hit me?” Please know abuse is never okay. Abusers will try to make you feel it’s normal so they can keep you under their control. It is not normal. Abusers usually try to convince you that it will get better. Domestic violence rarely gets better. Most times, it escalates. This is why it’s crucial to make a safety plan, even if you can’t leave right now.
Emotional abuse can include:
- Reproductive coercion (threats to end the pregnancy or other reproductive decisions)
- Insulting your personality, appearance, abilities, career, etc.
- Threatening suicide
- Public embarrassment
- Monitoring your location
- Monitoring your phone, laptop, or browser history
- Ordering you what to do
- Feeling scared it could escalate into physical violence
- “Forbidding” you to go out or go out alone
- Isolating you from family or friends (abuser might always have an excuse why they don’t like someone/why you shouldn’t see them anymore)
- *Not all forms of emotional abuse are included here. If you’re not sure if something is abusive, talk to a therapist, doctor or domestic violence professional.
Emotional abuse can be harder to distinguish and prove. However, it should still be taken just as seriously as physical abuse. Often abusers will escalate from emotional to physical abuse.
Financial abuse can include:
- Closely monitoring your spending
- Withholding money
- Not letting you buy baby essentials
- Stopping you from going to work
- Forbidding you from getting a job
- Stealing money from you
Financial abuse is often overlooked but is an effective way for abusers to control their victims and stop them from leaving. Oftentimes, women have difficulty leaving or can’t leave because they’re not “allowed” to have their own money.
Sexual abuse can include:
- Forcing sex (rape)
- Attempted rape
- Refusing to stop a sexual act (consent can be revoked at any time)
- Forcing acts you’re uncomfortable with
- “Convincing” you to do acts you’re uncomfortable with
- Unwanted touching
- Coerced nudity
- Sexual hitting, slapping, or choking without consent
- Publishing or threatening to publish “revenge porn”
- Forcing or coercing you to perform sexual acts for money
- *Not all forms of sexual abuse are included here. If you’re not sure if something is abusive, talk to a therapist, doctor, or domestic violence professional.
Sexual abuse isn’t just rape. Any sexual act you don’t consent to or have been coerced into can be considered sexual abuse.
Effects of Pregnancy Domestic Violence
The impacts of domestic abuse during pregnancy fall into 3 main categories. Intimate partner violence during pregnancy threatens your:
While the abdomen is frequently the target for abuse during pregnancy, abusers also target other body parts, like the butt, breasts, genitals, head, and neck.
As we pointed out, abusers are more likely to kill their partners during pregnancy. Abused women have higher rates of maternal mortality (death of the mother before, during, or after delivery).
Abused women are also less likely to seek prenatal care, which could affect their or their baby’s health. One reason could be because their partners prevent them from leaving the home or don’t want doctors to question bruises or marks.
Abuse can cause emotional havoc for the mother-to-be. All types of abuse during pregnancy are associated with higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts.
Some women deal with the stress and shame of abuse by self-medicating. This is one theory of why rates of smoking, drinking, and substance abuse during pregnancy are higher among abused women.
Researchers have documented suicide after pregnancy for women who’ve been sexually abused.
Often abusers target the abdomen, which puts the baby at risk. For example, if you’re 32 weeks pregnant and hit in the stomach by a toddler, you’ll most likely be fine. But if you’re intentionally hit with force by an adult, you should have it checked out ASAP.
Women who reported abuse had higher rates of intrauterine growth abnormalities, preterm labor, and miscarriage, according to research. Other studies show an increased risk of antepartum hemorrhage and perinatal death.
Abuse during pregnancy has also been associated with a lack of attachment to the child and lower breastfeeding rates.
Abuse may affect the child even after birth. Months after delivery, babies have higher anxiety levels if abuse occurred during pregnancy. Research also shows that maternal stress predicts behavioral or emotional challenges in children.
Pregnancy Domestic Violence Help + Safety Tips
If you’re looking for pregnancy domestic violence help, consider calling a hotline or talking to your doctor to learn about resources in your area. In emergency situations, always dial 911.
Abuse hotlines are a good place to start. They’re staffed with compassionate, non-judgmental experts who can listen and help you find resources. Call a 24-hour hotline:
- S.— National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233
- Canada— Assaulted Women’s Hotline at 1-866-863-7868
Build an Emergency Safety Plan
Leaving abusive relationships is always the ultimate goal. For safety and financial reasons though, that might not be possible right now. If you can’t leave the abuse immediately, consider making an emergency safety plan. An emergency safety plan is preparing in advance in case you need to leave violence quickly. It involves gathering documents and items. It also involves considerations like:
- Keeping clothes, money, or treasured items at a trusted friend’s house for when you leave the relationship/in case of emergency
- Planning emergency transportation
- Planning emergency housing (a list of shelters, friends’ places you could stay, etc.)
- Keeping an emergency bag packed and ready to go
Make a safety plan resource #1
Make a safety plan resource #2
Talk to Your Doctor
Prenatal check-ups provide an opportunity for you to speak with your doctor about the abuse and get resources. If your partner attends appointments with you, talk to your doctor in moments when your partner has to leave the room. You can also hand a small note to the receptionist saying something like, “Please ask the doctor to ask my partner to leave the room. Need to talk about abuse.” You can also ask over the phone when you’re making the appointment. Your doctor can come up with an excuse to ask your partner to leave.
Take a Prenatal Class
A controlling partner may understand you leaving home to attend a prenatal class. You can confide in the instructor about the abuse and ask for help.
If you can, try to see a counselor to talk about the abuse. If you can’t afford it, talk to your doctor or local health center about free therapy resources.
Text Abuse Hotlines
If you’re not comfortable talking on the phone, chat and text abuse hotlines are also available.
- S.- TheHotline Text (text “START” to 88788)
- S., Canada, UK- Crisis Text Line (text, chat & WhatsApp)
- Canada- Assaulted Women’s Hotline CHAT
- Canada- Unsafe At Home Ottawa
Domestic Abuse Housing Help
One of the biggest challenges in leaving an abuser at any time—especially during pregnancy—is housing. Whether you’re making a plan to leave or a plan in case of a violent emergency, it’s a good idea to have a list of local shelters available. You can use DomesticShelters.org to find options near you in the U.S. and Canada.
Abuse Support Groups Near Me
To find abuse groups near you, search “abuse support groups in CITY.”
You can also join an online abuse support group:
- Domestic abuse support group
- Domestic abuse support group for women
- Women’s only intimate partner support
- Abuse & trauma survivors support group
- Emotional abuse support group
- Women’s emotional abuse support group
Consider making or asking a friend to make an alternative Facebook account for this. And remember to delete your browser history every time if your partner monitors it.
If you can’t attend an abuse support group near you, consider searching for women’s groups instead. These groups can help empower you and help you gain confidence and resources to leave.
Create Some Financial Security
A common reason women don’t leave abusive relationships is that they have no means to. Plan ahead by attempting to create some financial security. This can help you in an emergency when you need to leave ASAP. It can also be something you build over time, helping you eventually leave.
- Open a bank account in your name (ask bank not to send statements or to send statements to someone you trust)
- Set aside change (it all adds up)
- When getting groceries, ask for cash back and hide the cash
- Instead of going grocery shopping, go to a food bank and hide the cash your partner is expecting you to spend
- Keep enough money for an emergency cab ride and hide it somewhere safe
It can be difficult to talk about abuse. You might feel shameful or that others will judge you. Alternatively, you may worry someone will call the police and make the situation worse. Still, if there’s someone you can trust, confide in them about the abuse. In the event something happens, someone will know about the previous incidents of abuse.
Cover Your Stomach
In instances of physical abuse where you can’t escape, consider getting into the fetal position and covering your stomach with your arms. This can help protect your baby from blunt-force trauma.
Learn About Domestic Violence
Learning about domestic violence can help you understand the cycle of abuse. It can give you insight into why you stay and why abuse is never your fault. Stepping out of shame, you might gain empowerment and resources to eventually leave.
Alternatively, learning about abuse can help you understand someone else. Reserving judgment, you can see how to best help someone experiencing pregnancy domestic violence.
Resources to learn more: