Intimate partner abuse, also known as domestic violence typically occurs to women who are abused before pregnancy and, in some cases abuse begins during the pregnancy. The form of abuse can present itself as physical, emotional, verbal, psychological, sexual, financial and medical. It can happen to anyone. Domestic violence knows no boundaries. It happens to students, stay-at-home moms, cashiers and corporate executives. Women of all ages, ethnicities, faiths, economic status and levels of education can find themselves in an environment where their intimate partner, or former partner, is abusing them. It is more common than people believe. According to the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, as much as 35% of women experience some form of intimate partner violence. That is equivalent to 1 in 3 women.

The impact of intimate partner violence during pregnancy presents countless health risks to the pregnant woman and to the health of the fetus. Some of the physical complications for the woman include low weight gain, bleeding, infections, high blood pressure, placental abruption, uterine rupture and anemia. Left untreated, major complications can result during the pregnancy and/or childbirth. While these effects may seem temporary or manageable, the effects on the fetus can extend to childhood and even into adulthood.

Women in an unintended pregnancy are burdened with the additional weight of choosing between a relationship with the father of the unborn child and the desire to live in a safe and secure environment. Pregnant women experiencing intimate partner violence are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, have a higher incidence of suicide, and engage in substance abuse, which include the abuse of illicit and prescription drugs and alcohol. These coping mechanisms may enable temporary escape but have long-term effects. Best practices point to professional counseling and early medical attention as soon as pregnancy is suspected. A visit to a doctor’s office or medical clinic will help verify a pregnancy and its viability through a laboratory grade urine test and an ultrasound and help women in an unplanned pregnancy find a safe environment to discuss their concerns.

Women considering parenting are encouraged to secure prenatal care as soon as possible. Lack of prenatal care affects not just the pregnant woman, but the baby as well. It can lead to immediate complications including premature birth and low-birth weight. Low birth weight and premature birth could have long-term effects on the child including attention problems, behavioral difficulties, language delays, decreased IQ, motor function delays. These effects often create difficulties in school and on into adulthood.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Seek help immediately. Facing an unplanned pregnancy can be complicated or confusing under less stressful circumstances. An unplanned pregnancy while living in an abusive environment or while in an abusive relationship is overwhelming. Developing a support system that includes individuals that will support and advocate for you while you make your final pregnancy decision will help you remain safe.

Hotline Phone Numbers:

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 TTY

W.O.M.A.N., Inc., San Francisco Bay Area 24-Hour Hotline: 415-864-4722