Abuse and pregnancy

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Abuse often starts or gets worse during pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time when abuse (intimate partner violence) can begin or become more severe if it already is happening. Some studies indicate that one in five abused women report that they were first assaulted during pregnancy. The literature also suggests that abuse during pregnancy occurs more frequently than placenta praevia or gestational diabetes, conditions for which pregnant women are routinely screened. Most women, however, are not routinely screened for abuse.

As in other types of abuse, there is shame and fear attached to abuse during pregnancy. Many women keep it a secret and are not aware of how prevalent it is or that there is help available.

When women experience violence during pregnancy, the impacts on their health include decreased self-esteem, maternal depression, misuse of alcohol, tobacco and other substances, physical injuries, internal bleeding and even death. In many countries, homicide is one of the leading causes of death among pregnant women. For the fetus, the abuse can result in preterm birth, premature rupture of the membranes or placenta, low birth weight, fetal hemorrhage, miscarriage or stillbirth.

Risk Factors

Although abuse can occur in all age groups and across all socioeconomic groups, risk factors include:

  • pregnancy
  • prior abuse
  • poverty
  • substance misuse
  • adolescence

Why are women abused  during pregnancy?

  • Competition for attention – The fetus is seen as an intruder into the relationship.
  • Financial concerns.
  • Loss of power and control –The partner may resent contact with others. Pregnancy may be a threat to a controlling, abusive partner who believes the woman could be influenced against him/her each time she sees a health care provider.
  • Dislike of physical and emotional pregnancy changes.

Health Nexus resources

Abuse in Pregnancy: Information and Strategies for the Prenatal Educator (PDF)


You and Your Baby Deserve to Be Safe - Brochure (PDF)


Other resources

  • Assaulted Women’s Helpline
    This telephone line is an anonymous crisis line for abused women in Ontario.
    1-866-863-0511, TTY: 1-866-863-7868


Find additional resources at the Best Start Resource Centre