Studies show that for women in abusive relationships, domestic violence usually continues or increases during pregnancy. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Part of a series on domestic violence in Springfield and Greene County. Need help? See related story.

If you thought that in most cases, domestic violence takes a holiday while victims are pregnant, you would be naive and you would be wrong.

According to an in-depth study published in 2015 in the “Journal of Women’s Health,” domestic violence usually continues or increases during pregnancy.

The title of the research paper is “Intimate Partner Violence During Pregnancy: Maternal and Neonatal Outcomes.” It was posted in the National Library of Medicine. (“Neonatal” generally means the first 28 days after birth.)

Greene County Prosecutor Emily Shook, first assistant in the domestic violence unit, said there are two events when victims are most at risk: No. 1 is when the victim attempts to leave the abuser, and pregnancy is the second.

“If a victim is interested in severing the relationship and parting ways that is an extremely dangerous time,” Shook said. “That’s a time when safety planning is really important. Pregnancy can also be a very dangerous time.”

Emily Shook, first assistant in the Greene County Prosecutor’s Office Domestic Violence Unit. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

The highlights of the study include:

  • For approximately 15 percent of those abused during pregnancy, the abuse actually increased during that time.
  • For approximately a third of the women — who entered pregnancy with a history of being battered — the abuse decreased during what the authors called a  “protective period.”
  • For the remaining roughly 52 percent of victims, the abuse continued at the same rate.
  • Risk factors associated with higher rates of abuse during pregnancy include a young age, single relationship status, minority race/ethnicity and poverty.
  • Depression is the most common mental health consequence of intimate partner violence during pregnancy, with nearly 40 percent of victims reporting symptoms. Post-traumatic stress disorder is also a common consequence.
  • Several studies indicate that the most severe consequences of abuse during pregnancy are homicide and suicide. 
  • Research supports the conclusion that domestic abuse during pregnancy increases the incidence of low birth weight and preterm birth.
  • In a large sample of women attending family practice clinics in South Carolina, abuse during pregnancy was significantly associated with an increased risk of perinatal death.  (“Perinatal” broadly means the time from when a woman becomes pregnant to the time the infant turns 1.)
  • Routine screening for domestic abuse by health care workers could identify women at risk or experiencing domestic abuse and lead to interventions that could reduce the violence and improve maternal and child outcomes. 

On the other hand, the concern with requiring health care providers to screen for domestic abuse is that it might lead some women to not seek health care.

Theories why violence can increase during pregnancy

In non-academic literature, several reasons routinely are suggested for why domestic assault can increase during pregnancy. They include:

  • Women might be financially dependent and can’t support themselves and their baby. They become more tolerant of the abuse and are less likely to leave.
  • They don’t want their goal of parenting together to change. 
  • Pregnant women are more vulnerable. They don’t just need to protect themselves but their baby, too. Perpetrators know this.
  • Male partners might view the unborn baby as a threat because the mother might love the baby more than the partner and might focus more on the baby.
  • The man might believe the baby is not his, creating tension between him and the baby. Jealousy can escalate during pregnancy to accusations that the woman had an affair.
  • He might blame the baby for interruptions in their sex life.
  • The male partner knows things will change and fears what the future might look like.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin