Domestic abuse and pregnancy

At least 1 in 4 women experience domestic abuse. Pregnancy is time when this can often start or worsen. It may not be a partner, but someone in the wider family.

Written by our midwife Kate

During your pregnancy and the postnatal period a professional should ask you at least once about your relationship, and have a discussion about domestic abuse in a safe and confidential space. This is offered to everyone as it is so common.

Different types of domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is not always physical, just because someone has not physically hurt you does not mean that you are not experiencing domestic abuse. It can come in all different ways including financial, emotional and sexual. It is usually a way of controlling or restricting freedom and behaviour through fear.

How domestic abuse affects your baby and/or children

Domestic abuse does not just affect the person experiencing it but also the unborn baby and other children.

During pregnancy, it increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, infection, physical injury to the baby and even death.

In addition to the physical risks we also know that the unborn baby’s emotional development is likely to be affected. This can result in behavioural problems as a child, higher risk of developing mental health problems and they are more likely to be abused themselves either in childhood or later in life. 

Younger children are also aware of domestic abuse. Even if they are not in a same room or are asleep it can still affect their own emotional and social development.

Domestic abuse myths

It’s a ‘one off’

An act of domestic abuse is rarely a ‘one off’ incident. It is often a build-up of control and bullying behaviour, which can gradually increase over time.

My baby will be taken away by social services if I tell anyone

The most important thing is that you are trying to make your home as safe as possible for your baby and you are making sure that they are not at risk of harm. There are many services available to help you to do this. Sometimes social services may be contacted however, this does not necessarily mean that they are there to take your baby from you. Their role is to make sure you and your baby are safe and they will support you to do this.

You can just leave if you are being abused

It can be very difficult to leave an abusive partner and there are often many reasons why.  There is the fear of the partner finding out and what they may do, and if you have been isolated from friends and family and have nowhere to turn. There are also practical reasons such as having access to money, worries of uprooting children or maybe not being able to speak English among many more possible reasons. That is where services and charities can help and support you to plan how you can leave the relationship safely.

It only happens to women

It is true that it is more common for women than men to be affected by domestic abuse. However, 1 in 7 men are also affected by domestic abuse. There are support services like Men's Advice Line who help male survivors of domestic abuse.

I am in a same sex relationship so there can’t be domestic abuse

Domestic abuse can occur in all types of relationships, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. 

How to get help and support

Your midwife, health visitor or doctor can support you but will also know about local services and support too.

Women’s Aid or Women's Refuge can help you make a safety plan for you and your children, and find out how to safely leave the relationship.

Call the National Domestic Violence helpline on 0808 2000 247. It is free and available 24 hours a day. They can provide you with advice such as where the nearest safe place is for you and how to plan if you are going to leave.

Remember that help is available

If you, your baby or children are at immediate risk then call 999 straight away.