Domestic abuse during pregnancy
Around a third of all cases of domestic abuse begin during pregnancy. One survey found that one midwife in five has at least one mother-to-be on her books who has been subjected to domestic violence.
These are alarming statistics. Domestic abuse in pregnancy kills more unborn babies than gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia. It increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight and foetal injury (sometimes, babies whose mothers have been abused are born with broken limbs).
Why are pregnant women particularly at risk?
Some psychologists believe it's because the sort of men who abuse women do it when there's an opportunity, and pregnancy creates an opportunity because they feel women are powerless to escape when they're expecting a baby.
Also, some abusers are jealous of the attention their partner gets, and they feel overlooked and ignored while their partner is pregnant.
What effect does domestic violence have on children?
Children living in a family where there's abuse feel very frightened by what's happening. They're also likely to be insecure, as their home is a volatile and unpredictable place. They will be confused, because their parent may suddenly change into a different person - and then, just as quickly, back to the person he normally is.
Children will almost certainly feel stressed by what they can hear and see going on around them. They may feel very alone, because they realise what's happening is a secret and not something they can share with people outside their family.
And there's the possibility that the children themselves will get caught up in the violence, or become victims of the abusive partner - in homes where the mother is being abused, between a third and two-thirds of children are also at risk.
Practical ways to protect your children
There's often a conspiracy of silence in a family where domestic abuse is occurring, as though to deny it will make it go away. But however bad things are, children usually welcome the chance to talk about them. So try to be open and honest with your kids, without frightening them.
Mothers sometimes feel it's best for their children to keep the family together, so that their kids have a father. But children feel more secure with one parent in a stable environment than with two in unstable and violent surroundings.
• What is domestic violence?
• Warning signs of domestic violence
• Domestic violence and the law
• Domestic violence support
• Talk: relationships
• Domestic violence help
If you move to a refuge, tell the children as soon as it's safe to do so (this may not be possible before you actually move out).
Refuges are often very positive places for kids - they give them an opportunity to meet and mix with children who have had similar experiences, and most refuges have children's support workers who organise activities to help the children start to deal with their family difficulties.