Everything Pregnancy

Another Heartbreaking Way Domestic Violence Affects Children—Even Before They're Born

A large study highlights the potentially lifelong dangers for a child born to a woman who experienced domestic abuse during pregnancy.

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No one should ever be abused in a relationship, yet one in three women in the U.S. are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. Not only does domestic violence impact those women and any children who witness their mothers being abused, but new research finds that if a woman experiences domestic violence during pregnancy, that unborn child may have adverse health effects for the rest of his life as a result.

This large study out of the University of Iowa, which was published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, found that women who experience domestic violence during pregnancy have a much higher risk of their babies being born prematurely and having low birth weights, both of which can lead to lifelong health problems. The study actually looked at 50 other studies, for a total sample of 5 million women from 17 countries. It was determined 15,000 of these women had experienced some form of domestic abuse, be it physical, sexual, financial, psychological, or emotional, from a partner or ex-partner.

That's a terrifying number, especially when you consider that these women are twice as likely to give birth preterm to low-birth-weight babies. Researchers also noted a slightly increased risk for smaller-than-gestational-age babies.

It doesn't necessarily matter what form of abuse is being inflicted upon a pregnant woman. According to Science Daily, violence can directly impact a growing fetus through physical or sexual trauma, but also an indirect effect may take place as a result of increased maternal stress, inadequate nutrition, and poor prenatal care. Because if you're being emotionally brutalized, you most likely can't take very good care of yourself or your baby.

Audrey Saftlas, professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa, puts it this way: "Domestic violence by a partner or ex-partner is of particular concern during pregnancy when not one, but two lives are at risk." She adds, "Although rates of domestic violence differ across the world, the detrimental effects of abuse on pregnant women are very clear and we must continue to establish effective interventions globally in order to prevent violence and to support women who report abuse."

The study authors urge medical professionals to be the first line of defense in preventing domestic violence against women. Doctors should be trained to recognize the signs of abuse, and to connect women in need with community resources that can help them.

If you are a pregnant victim of domestic abuse, please, please seek help. Your baby's life could depend on it.

The National Domestic Abuse hot line number is 1-800-799-7233, or visit their website.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.