Abuse During Pregnancy

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Abuse during pregnancyis the mistreatment, battering, or abuse of a pregnant woman. The termincludes physical, sexual, and emotional violence. Abuse affectswomen of all ages and from all social and economic backgrounds.

Physical abuse is one of the most common causes ofcomplications during pregnancy. It is estimated that one pregnantwoman in four is physically abused. This rate is even higher in pregnantteenagers.

What are the causes and risks of the injury?

The women who are most at risk for abuse during pregnancyare those who have been physically abused before. They may have ahistory of physical abuse,sexual abuse,or family violence. More abuse is directed toward unmarried pregnantwomen and those with unplanned pregnancies than other groups.

A woman who is abused may not seek prenatal care earlyin her pregnancy. When prenatal care is delayed, the fetus’s earlydevelopment can have problems. So early prenatal care is very important.Some of the reasons for late prenatal care are fear of the abuser, low self-esteem, and the lack of a support system. The abuser may try tocontrol the woman and keep the abuse hidden from doctors.

If the woman has any chronic illnesses, abuse can makethem worse. These include high blood pressure, diabetes,and asthma.This worsening can have a negative impact on the growing fetus.

Abuse can also increase stressand depression.Stress causes the body to release hormones that can lead topremature labor.These hormones can also decrease the blood flow through the placenta.Decreased blood flow may cause low birth weight.

Stress also makes it harder for the woman to take care ofherself during her pregnancy.This results in higher rates of malnutrition and poor weight gain. Abusedwomen are also more prone to pregnancy riskssuch as smoking or using smokeless tobacco, drinking alcohol,or taking drugs during pregnancy. Good nutrition and rest are very importantfor a healthy pregnancy.

Symptoms & Signs

What are the signs and symptoms of the injury?

The physical signs of abuse can include:

  • bone fractures
  • injuries on different parts of the body, in various stages of healing
  • unexplained cuts, head injuries,or bruises
  • The emotional signs of abuse are not as easy to see. Thevictim may have these traits:

  • depression
  • feelings of anxiety
  • low self-esteem
  • A fetus has very soft, delicate tissues and organs,especially in the head and chest area. Trauma to the pregnantwoman’s abdomen can cause:

  • miscarriage
  • separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus, known asabruptio placentae
  • premature laborand delivery of a low-birth-weight or premature infant
  • premature rupture of the membranes
  • infection
  • stillbirth
  • fetal fractures
  • maternal hemorrhage, which can result in the deaths of both mother and baby
  • Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the injury?

    If a doctor suspects that a woman is abused, she should be giventhe chance to talk without her partner present. Abused women are more likely totalk about the abuse to other women or to people who offer protection andsupport.

    The goal of treatment is to get the woman away from theabuser. If she decides to leave the abuser, she needs a means ofescape. Most communities have shelters, counseling services, andother resources to help her leave the dangerous situation. The NationalDomestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE, offers information andsupport 24 hours a day. Local crisis shelters can provide a place tostay for women and children on a nightly basis. They provide counseling,legal and hospital advocacy, and community education.

    Pregnant women who leave their abusers sometimes return home.Money problems or the belief that they cannot properly carefor themselves on their own may bring them back home. They may seeno other option but to return home to the abuser. It is important to makesure that an abused pregnant woman knows about the options for supportand protection that are available in her community.

    What happens after treatment for the injury?

    Abuse during pregnancy may leave lasting psychologicaleffects. Sadly, about 70% of men who abuse their female partners will alsoabuse their children. This supports the belief that a cycle of violencecan last for generations.

    Article type: xmedgeneral