Abuse during pregnancy
Abuse, whether emotional or physical, is never okay. Unfortunately, some women experience abuse from a partner. Abuse crosses all racial, ethnic and economic lines. Abuse often gets worse during pregnancy. Almost 1 in 6 pregnant women have been abused by a partner.
What is abuse?
Abuse can come in many forms. An abusive partner may cause emotional pain by calling you names or constantly blaming you for something you haven't done. An abuser may try to control your behavior by not allowing you to see your family and friends, or by always telling you what you should be doing. Emotional abuse may lead you to feel scared or depressed, eat unhealthy foods, or pick up bad habits such as smoking or drinking.
An abusive partner may try to hurt your body. This physical abuse can include hitting, slapping, kicking, choking, pushing or even pulling your hair. Sometimes, an abuser will aim these blows at a pregnant woman's belly. This kind of violence not only can harm you, but it also can put your unborn baby in grave danger. During pregnancy, physical abuse can lead to miscarriage and vaginal bleeding. It can cause your baby to be born too soon, have low birthweight or physical injuries.
What can trigger abuse during pregnancy?
For many families, pregnancy can bring about feelings of stress, which is normal. But it's not okay for your partner to react violently to stress. Some partners become abusive during pregnancy because they feel:
- Upset because this was an unplanned pregnancy
- Stressed at the thought of financially supporting a first baby or another baby
- Jealous that your attention may shift from your partner to your new baby, or to a new relationship
How do you know if you’re in an abusive relationship?
It's common for couples to argue now and then. But violence and emotional abuse are different from the minor conflicts that couples have.
- Does my partner always put me down and make me feel bad about myself?
- Has my partner caused harm or pain to my body?
- Does my partner threaten me, the baby, my other children or himself?
- Does my partner blame me for his actions? Does he tell me it's my own fault he hit me?
- Is my partner becoming more violent as time goes on?
- Has my partner promised never to hurt me again, but still does?
If you answered "Yes" to any of these questions, you may be in an unhealthy relationship.
What can you do?
Recognize that you are in an abusive relationship. Once you realize this, you've made the first step towards help. There are lots of things you can do.
Tell someone you trust. This can be a friend, a clergy member, a health care provider or counselor. Once you've confided in them, they might be able to put you in touch with a crisis hotline, domestic violence program, legal-aid service, or a shelter or safe haven for abused women.
Have a plan for your safety. This can include:
- Learn the phone number of your local police department and health care provider's office in case your partner hurts you. Call 911 if you need immediate medical attention. Be sure to obtain a copy of the police or medical record should you choose to file charges against the abuser.
- Find a safe place. Talk to a trusted friend, neighbor or family member that you can stay with, no matter what time of day or night, to ensure your safety.
- Put together some extra cash and any important documents or items you might need, such as a driver's license, health insurance cards, a checkbook, bank account information, Social Security cards and prescription medications. Have these items in one safe place so you can take them with you quickly.
- Pack a suitcase with toiletries, an extra change of clothes for you and your children, and an extra set of house and car keys. Give the suitcase to someone you trust who can hold it for you safely.
Remember: No one deserves to be physically or emotionally abused. Recognize the signs of abuse and seek help. You might feel very scared at the thought of leaving, but you've got to do it. You and your baby's life depends on it.
For more information
Georgetown University's Maternal and Child Health Library - domestic violence and abuse information.
National domestic violence hotline: (800) 799-SAFE (7233), (800) 787-3224 TTY
Last reviewed October 2008
Most common questions
Is air travel safe during pregnancy?
If your pregnancy is healthy, it’s usually safe to travel by plane. Follow these tips when traveling by air:
- Ask your airline if they have a cut-off time for traveling during pregnancy. You can fly on most airlines up to 36 weeks of pregnancy. But if you’re flying out of the country, the cut-off time may be earlier.
- If you’ve had morning sickness during pregnancy, ask your provider if you can take medicine to help with nausea.
- Book an aisle seat so you don't have to climb over other passengers when you need to get up to use the restroom or walk around. Try sitting towards the front of the plane where the ride feels smoother.
- Drink plenty of water. Don’t drink carbonated drinks, such as soda. And don’t eat foods, such as beans, that may cause gas.Gas in your belly can expand at high altitudes and make you feel uncomfortable.
- Fasten your seat belt when you’re in your seat. This can help keep you from getting hurt in case of turbulence. Turbulence happens when the air around a flying plane causes a bumpy ride.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Flex your ankles during the flight, and take a walk when it's safe to leave your seat. Doing these things can help your blood flow and lower your risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot inside a vein. Sitting for long stretches of time during any kind of travel raises your chances of having DVT. Ask your health care provider if you should wear support stockings during your flight. They may help prevent DVT. But if you have diabetes or problems with blood circulation, you probably shouldn’t wear them.
- Tell the flight attendant if you feel sick or very uncomfortable during your flight. Contact your health care provider as soon as you can.
Is it safe to get or have a tattoo during pregnancy?
It's best to wait until after having your baby to get one. Here's why: Hepatitis B, a dangerous liver infection, and HIV/AIDS are two of many diseases that can be passed along through bodily fluids. This means you can catch these diseases if you get a tattoo from someone who uses a dirty needle. And you can pass these diseases along to your baby during pregnancy.
We don't know how tattoo dyes and inks affect a developing baby. Small amounts of chemicals that might be harmless to an adult can have a much bigger impact on a growing baby.
Most healthcare providers will give an epidural to a woman with a tattoo on her lower back. But they may decide not to if the tattoo is recent and fresh. If you have a tattoo on your back and are considering getting an epidural for pain relief during childbirth, find out what the hospital's policy is before you're admitted.
Is it safe to get spa treatments during pregnancy?
Some spa treatments are safe. Others may be more painful than usual. And some - like mud baths - are a bad idea while you're pregnant.
Any spa treatments that raise your body temperature (like mud baths, hot wax and seaweed wraps) are almost always unsafe during pregnancy. Steam rooms, hot tubs, and saunas also raise your body temperature. They can make you dehydrated and overheated. This can be dangerous for you and your baby. Avoid these treatments while you're pregnant.
Be careful with skin treatments like facials and body scrubs. During pregnancy, your skin changes a lot and may be extra sensitive. Before you cover your whole body with a product, test it on a small area of skin to be sure it doesn't irritate.
Getting your eyebrows done and having your bikini line waxed are usually safe during pregnancy, but they may feel more painful to your sensitive skin.