Abuse during pregnancy

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Abuse, whether emotional or physical, is never okay. Unfortunately, some women experience abuse from a partner. Abuse crosses all racial, ethnic and economic lines. Abuse often gets worse during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (also called ACOG) says that 1 in 6 abused women is first abused during pregnancy. More than 320,000 women are abused by their partners during pregnancy each year. 

What is abuse?

Abuse can come in many forms. An abusive partner may cause emotional pain by calling you names or constantly blaming you for something you haven't done. An abuser may try to control your behavior by not allowing you to see your family and friends, or by always telling you what you should be doing. Emotional abuse may lead you to feel scared or depressed, eat unhealthy foods, or pick up bad habits such as smoking or drinking

An abusive partner may try to hurt your body. This physical abuse can include hitting, slapping, kicking, choking, pushing or even pulling your hair. Sometimes, an abuser will aim these blows at a pregnant woman's belly. This kind of violence not only can harm you, but it also can put your unborn baby in grave danger. During pregnancy, physical abuse can lead to miscarriage and vaginal bleeding. It can cause your baby to be born too soon, have low birthweight or physical injuries.

What can trigger abuse during pregnancy?

For many families, pregnancy can bring about feelings of stress, which is normal. But it's not okay for your partner to react violently to stress. Some partners become abusive during pregnancy because they feel:

  • Upset because this was an unplanned pregnancy
  • Stressed at the thought of financially supporting a first baby or another baby
  • Jealous that your attention may shift from your partner to your new baby, or to a new relationship

How do you know if you’re in an abusive relationship?

It's common for couples to argue now and then. But violence and emotional abuse are different from the minor conflicts that couples have.

Ask yourself:

  • Does my partner always put me down and make me feel bad about myself?
  • Has my partner caused harm or pain to my body?
  • Does my partner threaten me, the baby, my other children or himself?
  • Does my partner blame me for his actions? Does he tell me it's my own fault he hit me?
  • Is my partner becoming more violent as time goes on?
  • Has my partner promised never to hurt me again, but still does?

If you answered "Yes" to any of these questions, you may be in an unhealthy relationship. 

What can you do?

Recognize that you are in an abusive relationship. Once you realize this, you've made the first step towards help. There are lots of things you can do. 

Tell someone you trust. This can be a friend, a clergy member, a health care provider or counselor. Once you've confided in them, they might be able to put you in touch with a crisis hotline, domestic violence program, legal-aid service, or a shelter or safe haven for abused women.

Have a plan for your safety. This can include:

  • Learn the phone number of your local police department and health care provider's office in case your partner hurts you. Call 911 if you need immediate medical attention. Be sure to obtain a copy of the police or medical record should you choose to file charges against the abuser.
  • Find a safe place. Talk to a trusted friend, neighbor or family member that you can stay with, no matter what time of day or night, to ensure your safety.
  • Put together some extra cash and any important documents or items you might need, such as a driver's license, health insurance cards, a checkbook, bank account information, Social Security cards and prescription medications. Have these items in one safe place so you can take them with you quickly.
  • Pack a suitcase with toiletries, an extra change of clothes for you and your children, and an extra set of house and car keys. Give the suitcase to someone you trust who can hold it for you safely.

Remember: No one deserves to be physically or emotionally abused. Recognize the signs of abuse and seek help. You might feel very scared at the thought of leaving, but you've got to do it. You and your baby's life depends on it.

More information

  • National domestic violence hotline: (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or (800) 787-3224 TTY