Pregnancy can be a dangerous time for women and the children of women who are abused. Studies show that many women report that the abuse starts or increases during their pregnancy. There are many ways that an abusive partner can exert power and control over their partner before, during and after pregnancy.
Once a woman is pregnant, the abuser may:
- Force her to have an abortion
- Injure her with the intent of causing her to lose the baby
- Force her to continue an unwanted pregnancy
- Pregnant women have a higher risk of experiencing violence during pregnancy than they do of experiencing problems such as high blood pressure, gestational diabetes or premature rupture of membranes.
- The incidence of violence in pregnancy may range from 4% to 17%. These figures may significantly underestimate the problem, as many women do not report their experiences of violence.
- Of women who had ever been married, were 18 years of age or over and who reported violence during pregnancy by a marital partner, 40% reported that it began while they were pregnant.
- 21% of women abused by a current or previous partner were assaulted during pregnancy.
- Women who were abused during pregnancy were four times as likely as other abused women to say they experienced very serious violence (beating, choking, gun/knife threats, sexual assault).
Abuse often begins or increases during pregnancy because of different reasons, such as:
- the woman focuses attention to her unborn child
- the woman receives attention from others
- other partner is no longer the center of attention
- she is too tired or ill to take care of the needs of the other in the way they demand
During pregnancy, the abuser may:
- start, continue or change the pattern of abuse
- control, limit, delay or deny her access to prenatal care
- use her pregnancy as a weapon for emotional abuse
- refusing sex on grounds that her pregnant body appears unattractive
- denying that the child is theirs
- refusing to support her emotionally throughout the pregnancy
- financially abuse her by refusing her access to money to buy food and supplies
- restrict her access to food
- threaten to leave her or report her to Social Services as an unfit mother
- force her to work beyond her endurance during pregnancy
The abusive partner most often directs their physical assaults at the women’s breasts, abdomen and/or genital area. The emotional responses triggered by abuse, such as anxiety, depression, drug use, sleeplessness, and reduced appetite can have health risks for a pregnant woman and her developing baby. Abuse during pregnancy can cause direct or indirect injury to the fetus.
The abuse can result in:
- separation of the placenta
- broken bones in the fetus
- preterm labour
- premature rupture of the membranes, increasing the risk of infection and preterm delivery
- hemorrhage in the fetus
- low birth-weight
During labour and birth, the abuser may:
- refuse to support her
- try to control decision-making around the use of pain medication or other interventions
- demand that doctors restore the woman’s vagina to the “way it was before” the birth
After the baby is born, the abuser may:
- increase the amount of abuse
- begin using the woman’s relationship with her baby as part of the abuse by:
- denying her access to her newborn child
- not supporting her or helping her when she comes home with the baby
- demanding sex soon after childbirth
- blaming her because the infant is the “wrong sex”
- sulking or trying to make her feel bad for time spent with the baby
- criticizing her parenting ability
- threatening to or abducting the baby
- telling her she will never get custody
- making her stay home with the baby
- prevent her from getting a job or make her take a job
- making, or threatening to make, false child abuse accusations to Social Services against her
- withholding money for supplies for the baby such as formula, food, diapers
- blaming her for the baby’s crying or other problems
- not allowing her to bathe or perform personal hygiene
- threatening to take the baby/other children and leave
- not allowing her to feed the baby during the night
Help is available for women who are being abused. Counselling for survivors can help you process what you’ve been through and learn how to build new and healthy relationships. There are also transition houses located throughout Saskatchewan for abused women and her children to find safety.
- You do not deserve to be abused.
- No one has the right to hurt you or your unborn child.
- You and your unborn child have a right to be free from the abuse.
- You can learn to take care of yourself and your children.
- There is help available. Please do not be afraid to ask for help.