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How Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence Affect Maternal Mental Health

How Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence Affect Maternal Mental Health

Millions of people experience domestic and intimate partner violence each year, and it is estimated that with every passing minute, 20 more people are abused by an intimate partner.  October marks Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Violence Awareness Month to help raise awareness and honor survivors and those who have died from domestic and intimate partner violence. 


Defining Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence 

Domestic violence and intimate partner violence have similar definitions. They both involve abusive or threatening behavior and can include physical, verbal, sexual, and emotional/psychological abuse. 

Domestic violence is a broader term and can include abuse involving children, the elderly, roommates, or other people in the home. Intimate partner violence occurs within a personal relationship, regardless of marital status or sexual orientation. 

Both men and women experience domestic/intimate partner violence, which may include:

  • Physical abuse – Hitting/punching, biting, kicking, pushing.
  • Verbal abuse – Name calling, screaming/yelling, threatening, bullying.
  • Sexual abuse – Forced sex, unwanted touching, sexting. 
  • Psychological abuse – Control, threats, mental/emotional abuse, intimidation.
  • Stalking – Following, calling/sending texts, spying on, cyberstalking. 


Effects of Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence

It is not uncommon for survivors to experience post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or depression after experiencing abuse. There may be long-lasting effects that include mental health issues and physical problems that can affect the digestive system, muscles/bones, the heart, the nervous system, and the reproductive system. 

Domestic violence not only leads to mental, physical, and emotional trauma, but can result in homelessness, financial struggles, separation of families, disabilities, alcohol/drug abuse, and even death. 


How Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence Affects Pregnant Women

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (also called ACOG) says that 1 in 6 abused women is first abused during pregnancy. More than 320,000 women are abused by their partners during pregnancy each year.  

Major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress syndrome are some of the most common effects of domestic violence during pregnancy. Pregnant women who experience abuse are twice as likely to report symptoms of depression. Maternal homicide or suicide is also prevalent, and over half of maternal suicides are linked to intimate partner violence. 

Some women may experience less abuse during their pregnancy due to them being with child, while others will still experience abuse and possibly increased abuse if the partner does not believe the baby is theirs. Abuse during pregnancy increases the likelihood of premature births or death of the fetus. Once the baby is born, they are also at risk of experiencing abuse. 

Women may be more vulnerable to abuse during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Pregnancy not only does not provide security from intimate partner violence but also increases the risk of abusive relationships. Developing countries found that prevalence of violence among pregnant women ranged from 4 % to 29 % and the main risk factors for abuse were low-income, low education in both partners, and unplanned pregnancy. – 

Domestic violence and pregnancy fact sheet 

Domestic violence and pregnancy fact sheet 


DV Baby risk: 

  • Weighing too little at birth 
  • Having trouble nursing or taking a bottle 
  • Having sleeping problems 
  • Being harder to comfort than other babies 
  • Having problems learning to walk, talk and learn normally 
  • Experiencing lasting emotional trauma 
  • Being physically and sexually abused 
  • Being hurt during a fight – 


Knowing the Warning Signs

The warning signs of abuse may not be apparent at first, and oftentimes, partners may appear as the ideal person to be in a relationship with. They may demonstrate love and affection and shower their partner with compliments and gifts. 

Some of the early signs of abuse are jealousy and control. Partners may become easily angered and place a lot of blame on the other person for things that are not their fault. The abuse may only be verbal or psychological and never become physical, or there can be a mix of types of abuse that a person experiences. 

The abuser may feel guilty afterward and apologize, beg, and buy gifts to appease their terrible behavior. Overtimes the abuse tends to escalate and can include:

  • Controlling finances – Forcing their partner to depend on them financially.
  • Controlling how their partner dresses/when they can leave home, etc.
  • Not allowing their partner to interact with friends/family.
  • Snooping through their partner’s phone, computer, and social media. 
  • Increase in verbal/physical/mental/emotional abuse.
  • Breaking/destroying their partner’s belongings. 
  • Taking away the car or keys to the car/home. 
  • Intimidation by using objects in the home like guns, knives, bats, etc.
  • Threatening their partner with violence or taking away pets/children.
  • Making comments like “I can’t/won’t live without you” or “You will never leave me.”


What to Do if You Experience Domestic Violence or Intimate Partner Abuse 

There are resources available to people who are experiencing abuse. If you experience abuse:

  • Call 911 if you are in danger or are being threatened.
  • Call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. 
  • Reach out to family/friends to ask for help.
  • Find local resources: Domestic violence assistance/shelters.
  • If possible, save money to prepare in case you need a hotel room or transportation.
  • Make a plan – When and how you can safely leave, who you can contact, and where you can go. Do not tell the abuser that you plan to leave. 
  • If your abuser does not allow you to be alone, doctor’s offices/healthcare facilities can be a chance to get separated from your partner long enough to alert them of the need for assistance or to have them call 911 for you. 

Domestic violence and intimate partner violence can happen to anyone. Know the early warning signs, and do not suffer in silence. Reach out to any family/friends/coworkers/neighbors who can help you. 

If you are pregnant and experiencing abuse, speak with your OBGYN. Healthcare providers are trained to recognize and assist with domestic violence situations. Your life and the life of your baby are at risk while in an abusive relationship. Know that you are not alone. 


Survivors of Domestic Violence

Support after experiencing domestic violence is essential in preventing the abuse from reoccurring and helps the survivor to feel safe. They may have no financial means to support themselves, have nowhere to live, and have minimal belongings. Support from family, friends or local organizations can help get survivors back to a healthy, happy living situation. 


HMHBGA Safe Under the Lillies FundThe purpose of this fund is to provide survivors of intimate partner violence financial assistance of up to $1000 to aid in the support of their transition to a safer situation while also maintaining their autonomy and dignity and provide financial support for any priority needs they currently are experiencing.

 In order to qualify:

  • Applicant must be living in or part of a DV/IPV shelter/ organization
  • Applicant must be pregnant or at least 2 years postpartum during the application process
  • Applicant must be living in Georgia


Blog Writer: April Rowe, RN
Blog Reviewer: Sheila LaFortune, DNP, APRN, CNM


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