Violence and abuse in pregnancy

Physical and emotional abuse against women and can affect women from all walks of life.

About 1 in 5 women experience domestic abuse or violence from a partner or ex-partner at some point in their lives. Some may also have experienced other forms of abuse as a child or from other family members.

Men and people in same-sex relationships experience violence and abuse too. Sometimes they don’t look for help because they’re worried about not being believed or being made fun of.

Domestic abuse

Domestic abuse can take many forms. It can be:

  • controlling or bullying behaviour
  • sexual
  • emotional
  • financial
  • psychological abuse
  • a mix of these

Women who are being or have been abused are more likely to

  • be depressed
  • have miscarriages
  • have health problems during and after pregnancy

Abusive behaviour

Abusive behaviours can include:

  • making or carrying out threats to hurt you or themselves
  • intimidation, such as destroying your property or abusing pets
  • if somebody puts you down, makes you think you are crazy or makes you feel guilty
  • being controlling such as telling you who you can see, where you can go, and what you can do
  • blaming you for the abuse, denying it happened or making light of it
  • threats to take your child away or saying you are a bad parent
  • stopping you from working, controlling the household money

Effects of abuse

Abuse when you’re pregnant can affect your unborn baby in many ways, including:

  • making them more likely to be born early and small
  • making it more difficult for you to have a safe place to enjoy a strong and close bond with your baby
  • forcing you to protect your baby from the abuser’s actions - women in these situations try very hard to keep themselves and their babies safe
  • affecting your baby's relationships and emotional development in future

The abuse might have been going on a while and may not feel like something you can deal with just now.

You won't be blamed or judged if this is happening to you. Seeking out help is important for you and your baby.

How you might be feeling

Many people feel ashamed and guilty about experiencing sexual abuse and violence. They may not tell anyone through shame, fear or worries about being judged by other people.

If you’re being abused, or you have been in the past, being pregnant can trigger all kinds of difficult feelings. It can stop some women from going to their antenatal appointments because they worry about how they’ll react to being examined. Others are scared about the birth, because it may bring on feelings of panic and of being out of control.

If there was abuse in your childhood, thoughts of this can sometimes come flooding back, even though you’ve pushed them to the back of your mind for years.

Getting help and support

Domestic abuse isn’t your fault and it’s never okay.

If anyone's abusing you, it can be scary to think about leaving the situation or even telling anyone about it. It's vital you tell someone you can trust and ask for help.

You can:

  • talk to your midwife, GP or health visitor (or family nurse if you have one) and trust them to keep it confidential
  • phone the Scottish Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage helpline for confidential information and advice - the number won’t show up on your phone bill
  • phone the Police on 999 if you ever feel at risk or unsafe

Support services

There are services to help you and your family in both practical and emotional ways – whether you’re living with the abuser or not.

Find a local domestic abuse support group. You can also find support at your local Scottish Women's Aid Group.

Housing

If you’re at risk of domestic abuse from a current or an ex-partner, the local authority must offer you somewhere to live to keep you and your baby safe.

Shelter Scotland has more information about housing and homelessness connected to domestic abuse

Female genital mutilation (FGM)

Female genital mutilation (FGM) can cause problems during pregnancy and childbirth. If this has happened to you, you may need extra care.

You may feel pressured by family members or the wider community to arrange FGM for your daughter. FGM is against the law in the UK.

Although it can be hard to talk to your midwife, they can make sure you get the best care for you and for your baby. Your midwife or social worker can give you advice and support you in keeping your daughter safe.

FGM Aware has more advice for parents about FGM