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How to Recognize Domestic Violence in Pregnancy

Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, is when a person subjects their partner to a pattern of threatening or controlling behavior. This may include emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. Sadly, 1 in 3 women in the United States will experience this type of violence, and women who are pregnant are at additional risk.

About 324,000 pregnant women are victims of abuse every year in the US. For some women, abuse only begins after she finds out she is pregnant, as the pregnancy can trigger feelings of jealousy or loss of control in her partner.

For others, the violence may have preceded the pregnancy and often worsens as the woman become more noticeably pregnant. When a woman is pregnant, her abuser may focus on physical violence on her breasts and growing abdomen, especially in hopes of hurting the baby. This can have very negative effects on both her and her developing baby.

More research needs to be done in this area, but domestic violence in pregnancy has been associated with miscarriage, stillbirth, placental abruption, preterm delivery, and low birth weight babies. Moms who are abused are more likely to have poor weight gain in pregnancy, use illicit substances, have poor prenatal care, and sustain injuries such as pelvic fractures.

Occasionally, abuse lessens during the pregnancy. A woman in this situation may start to feel safe again and may be hopeful that her partner has turned the corner. However, very often once the baby arrives and the stress of having a newborn sets in, the abuse returns and often worsens. This time, the abuser has a new target: a helpless newborn.

If you are in this situation, it is imperative to seek help, if not for you then for the sake of your unborn baby. The first step is to tell someone, whether it be a trusted friend or your obstetric provider. Doctors’ offices have many resources that can help you get to a safe place and get the assistance you need.

In the meantime, developing a safety plan can be the difference between life and death. This includes:

  • Have a suitcase packed with a few necessities, such as medications and extra car keys. Keep this at a trusted friend’s house in case you need to leave quickly.
  • Put money away every week into an emergency fund that only you have control of.
  • Keep essential items in a safe place. This includes credit cards, health insurance cards, a checkbook, medical records, and your birth certificate.
  • Have a safe place where you know you can always go, whether it be a shelter or a friend’s house.
  • Call your doctor if you are hurt. If you are pregnant, go to Labor and Delivery. If not, go to the Emergency Room.

Remember: an abuser may not leave physical evidence but may control where a woman goes or how she spends her money. Additionally, an abuser may force sex and refuse to use birth control, knowing that getting her pregnant against her will is another way to control her.

If you are in an abusive relationship, please reach out and seek care.


  • The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
  • FAQ#83: Domestic Violence.
    The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
  • CO#518: Intimate Partner Violence.
    The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
  • Your Pregnancy and Birth
  • 4th ed.

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