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Pregnancy and Domestic Violence

Women Are Sacred

Native Americans and Alaska Natives have passed down many teachings about the important role of honoring life-givers and families. Throughout history, life-givers were honored members of their communities. They provided support for healthy families, protected the earth and natural resources and practiced resilience.

Unfortunately, pregnancy can be a dangerous time for pregnant people in abusive relationships, putting them and their unborn child at heightened risk due to their vulnerable physical and emotional status. Abuse is based on power and control and an abusive partner may see the unpredictability of pregnancy as an opportunity to increase power and control. Pregnancy can also lead to the abusive partner becoming jealous, resentful and angry. These are not excuses for abuse. Abuse is never ok.

Pregnancy Risks

There are many tactics of domestic violence, including emotional, cultural, spiritual, physical, financial and digital. Other tactics are sexual violence and reproductive coercionand pregnancy might be the result of those tactics. In fact, The National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline) reports that one in four callers experienced birth control sabotage and pregnancy coercion.

In some areas of the country, homicide is one of the leading causes of death for pregnant people, outpacing any causes related to pregnancy.

pregnant stomach

According to The Hotline, physical risk to a pregnant victim and the growing fetus can include:

  • Blunt trauma to the abdomen
  • Hemorrhaging (including placental separation)
  • Uterine rupture
  • Miscarriage/stillbirth
  • Preterm labor
  • Premature rupture of the membranes
  • Insufficient weight gain
  • Vaginal/cervical/kidney infections
  • Complications during labor

Read PTSD Effects On Children Who Witness Domestic Violence to learn about the impact of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Screening During Pregnancy

Prenatal visits can be an opportunity to discuss your relationship. If your partner goes to the appointments with you, try to find a reason to be alone with your doctor or nurse so you can safely discuss your concerns.

If your local or Tribal health center offers any women-only healthy pregnancy classes, this could be a good opportunity to discuss pregnancy and relationship concerns or allow you the time and space to speak to the instructor one-on-one.

If you are an Alaska Native and must leave your home or village in order to give birth in a hospital, this could be an opportunity for you to involve your healthcare providers in a plan to leave.

Safety Planning

There is a heightened risk for violence during pregnancy -- safety planning can help. Safety planning is an individualized process where a practical plan is created that includes ways to remain safe while in an abusive relationship. An advocate can help you develop a plan and discuss your options with you.

By using your experience and intuition, along with these tips, you may be able to increase your options for safety. As always, you are the best person to judge your safety.

  • Stay on the ground floor if possible.
  • Try to avoid rooms with weapons, hard surfaces or sharp edges
  • Plan a safe route out of the home from the rooms where you spend the most time
  • If you are being attacked, get into the fetal position around your stomach and make your body as small a possible.
  • If driving becomes difficult, plan some safe ride options like a neighbor, relative or friend or public transportation

Read Safety Planning During a Violent Encounter for additional tips.

As pregnancy changes the body, safety needs may also change. Update your safety plan as needed.

Self-care

Stress can greatly impact your health and that of your baby, so it is important to consider self-care. Participating in self-care activities like exercise (if safe to do so), eating healthy, counseling and journaling could be helpful. Be gentle with yourself mentally and physically. Connecting with your cultural pregnancy practices during this time can be uplifting. Also, you can practice resilience by smudging, praying or sitting with your traditional medicines.

Help is Available

StrongHearts Native Helpline is a 24/7 culturally-appropriate domestic, dating and sexual violence helpline for Native Americans and Alaska Natives available by calling or texting 1-844-762-8483 or clicking on the chat icon on Strongheartshelpline.org. Advocates can help with crisis intervention and safety planning and provide referrals to Native-centered resources.


Sources

"Pregnancy and Abuse: How to Stay Safe for Your 9 Months". The National Domestic Violence Hotline. https://www.thehotline.org/resources/pregnancy-and-abuse-how-to-stay-safe-for-your-9-months/. Accessed September 1, 2021.

“National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010 Summary Report” Center for Disease Control, 2010. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf. Accessed September 1, 2021.

“Staying Physically, Emotionally and Financially Safe during Pregnancy.” The Hotline. https://www.thehotline.org/resources/staying-physically-emotionally-and-financially-safe-during-pregnancy/. Accessed October 14, 2021.

“Racial and Ethnic Differences in Homicides of Adult Women and the Role of Intimate Partner Violence - United States, 2003–2014.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 18, 2017.
https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6628a1.htm. Accessed October 14, 2021.

“1 In 4 Callers to the National Domestic Violence Hotline Report Birth Control Sabotage and Pregnancy Coercion.” The Hotline, February 15, 2011. https://www.thehotline.org/news/1-in-4-callers-to-the-national-domestic-violence-hotline-report-birth-control-sabotage-and-pregnancy-coercion/. Accessed October 14, 2021.

“Homicide Is a Leading Cause of Pregnancy-Associated Death in Louisiana.” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 3, 2020. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/homicide-leading-cause-pregnancy-associated-death-louisiana. Accessed October 14, 2021.

“Maternal Health: Maternal and Child Health and Wellness.” Opioids. https://www.ihs.gov/opioids/maternalchild/maternalhealth/. Accessed October 14, 2021.

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