Domestic violence affects hundreds of thousands of women every year in the UK. In addition to the women themselves, children and other people who they care for can also be injured. If a woman is pregnant whilst she is experiencing domestic violence the foetus is at risk of being harmed.

Statistics about Domestic Violence during pregnancy

Statistics collected in the United Kingdom show that around one in three domestic violence cases start or get noticeably worse when a woman is pregnant. At least 20% of all midwives in the United Kingdom know that at least one of the expectant women in their care is experiencing domestic violence. Another 1 in five midwives suspect that a woman in their care is being subject to domestic abuse, however they do not have conclusive proof.

Raising Awareness for midwives

In the past decade, additional training has been provided to midwives in the United Kingdom to help to provide them with the information that they need to identify and support women who are experiencing domestic abuse. However, domestic violence training is not yet mandatory training for all midwives.

Thankfully, a number of independent domestic violence charities in the United Kingdom help to raise awareness amongst practicing midwives in the country. In many cases, a pregnant woman will confide in the midwife, who will not be able to pass the information on to anyone else due to confidentiality agreements. However, midwives should be able to access other confidential support systems where they can get help and advice about how to support women who they are currently working with.

Risks of domestic violence during pregnancy

Domestic violence during pregnancy carries all of the standard risks that domestic abuse carries; however there is also a risk to the unborn child. Domestic violence increases the risk of low birth weight, serious infection, developmental disorders, miscarriage, foetal injury and foetal death.

If an expectant mother miscarries and is not able to access the appropriate medical attention, she is also put at serious risk and could die. The effects of domestic violence may also physically prevent her from having more children in future.

Aside from physical harm, increased stress levels in the mother can affect the baby. Studies have shown that increased stress levels can lead to a lower birth rate and subtle changes to the brain development of the baby. Pregnancy can be a stressful enough time already for expectant mothers, without the added pressures of suffering physical and emotional abuse.

Why pregnant women are a target for abuse?

The motives of an abuser are unique in each case of domestic abuse, although they tend to fall into one of three main categories when it comes to abusing a pregnant woman.

  • Jealousy towards the baby – Domestic abuse is about power and control. Abusers may be concerned that the baby could cause them to lose some of their power and control over the mother. This may cause an escalation of violence.
  • Anger towards the baby – Unplanned pregnancy can cause an abuser to become angry towards the baby. When a pregnancy is unplanned, it can take some control away from the abuser. Increased abuse may allow them to feel like they are reclaiming control. Despite this, many unplanned pregnancies come as a result of abusive men dictating birth control strategies to their partner.
  • “Business As Usual” – An existing abuser has no intention of changing their behaviour just because their partner is pregnant. Some abusers may even feel as though decreasing the level of violence that they commit could be an admission that what they are doing is wrong.