Pregnancy and Intimate Partner Violence

By Carolina Boyd, Communications Associate

Pregnancy is often thought of as a joyous time in the life of a family—the addition of a new member bringing happiness and anticipation. However, this is not always the case. The reality is very different for those who experience intimate partner violence (IPV) during pregnancy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), IPV affects as many as 324,000 pregnant women each year and that number may be underestimated. IPV is any physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, or psychological harm caused by a current or former partner or spouse. It can be devastating for those experiencing violence as well as their unborn child.

“IPV during pregnancy is more likely to result in inadequate prenatal care,” said Carrie Hendrix, Director of Social Services at Legacy Community Health. “That can cause such adverse birth outcomes as low birth weight, preterm birth and maternal or neonatal death.”

The World Health Organization declared physical violence a leading cause of traumatic death for pregnant women and their unborn children. Physical abuse can include hitting, slapping, kicking, choking, pushing or even pulling hair. Sometimes, an abuser will aim their blows at a pregnant person’s belly. IPV during pregnancy can also manifest itself in other ways including:

  • Withholding medical care: preventing access to doctor appointments
  • Psychological abuse: stalking, threats, forced isolation from family or friends
  • Emotional abuse: name-calling, humiliation, “putting you down”
  • Financial abuse: withholding money for basic needs
  • Reproductive coercion: interference in birth control options, forcing unprotected sex, attempts to cause a miscarriage

“At the core, abuse is about power and control. There are several theories as to why abuse increases during pregnancy, but they all lead back to the abuser losing power and control of their pregnant partner. Jealousy, resentment, fear, increased financial demand and responsibility can all be catalysts to abuse,” said Hendrix.

If you are experiencing IPV it is important to seek help for both you and your baby. Your healthcare provider can play a crucial role since they often are the first to provide care to those suffering from IPV.

“Even though it might be scary, it is important to talk to your medical providers about any IPV concerns. You have complete control of how you engage with the support that is offered,” said Hendrix. “There are safe and secure ways of connecting with social workers that will listen and provide the right resources for you and your growing family.”

If you or someone you know is suffering from IPV, consider reaching out to any of the following resources for help: