Women's Healthcare Topics

Physical Abuse During Pregnancy

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

One in Six Pregnant Women are Physically Abused

For most women pregnancy should be a time filled with joy and celebration. Unfortunately studies suggest that as many as 25% of women are physically or emotionally abused during pregnancy. Some experts suggest that as many as one in six women are physically abused during pregnancy.

Physical abuse during pregnancy is a serious and harmful problem. Pregnant mothers and their babies stand the risk of injury from physical abuse. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently reported that as many as one quarter of all pregnant women are physically or emotionally abused at some point during their pregnancy.

Who Is At Risk For Abuse During Pregnancy?

Are at risk for physical abuse in your pregnancy.

Abuse during pregnancy can affect women from across all socio-economic or demographic backgrounds. No one is immune from abuse during pregnancy. Women who were abused prior to pregnancy are more at risk for abuse during pregnancy than those that have never experienced abuse.

It is important that physicians and other caregivers screen for abuse during pregnancy. Unfortunately this can be challenging. Many women fail to report abuse out of fear that more physical harm will come to them for reporting their situation. Still others are frightened or ashamed to admit their situation to their health care providers, whereas others may feel they will lose the financial support they need to carry out their pregnancy.

Effects of Physical Abuse During Pregnancy

Abuse during pregnancy can result in a myriad of complications. Examples of side effects resulting from physical abuse include:

  • Miscarriage

  • Stillbirth

  • Low birth weight babies or premature delivery

  • Fetal Fracture

  • Infection or rupture of the mother's membranes

  • Chronic illness in the mother or baby

Often illness results from the intense psychological stress experienced by the mother during pregnancy. Other women will not have adequate access to prenatal care as a result of their abuse, which can lead to complications including depression or inadequate nutrition during pregnancy. In some cases the situation is complicated by a partner that refuses to allow the mother to seek adequate prenatal care. This may result from fear that the partner will be arrested or punished for their actions.

Getting Help During Pregnancy

It is important when possible that family members, caregivers or the mother herself intervene if possible to help prevent physical abuse during pregnancy. There are fortunately many resources available to help pregnant mothers cope with physical or emotional abuse during pregnancy. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides support for battered women across the nation. You can reach a member via their hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. Other helpful resources include the following:
National Council of Child Abuse and Family Violence
National Domestic Violence Hotline


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