Past or current abuse

Past or current abuse is known to impact on your risk of developing emotional and mental health problems, and is known to increase after having a baby.

Current abuse or family violence

Family violence is also referred to as domestic violence, or intimate partner violence.

What is Family Violence?

Family violence occurs when a person uses aggression, threats, intimidation or force to control a partner or former partner, or other vulnerable family member such as a child. It is mainly committed by men, aims to cause fear, and can happen to anyone, regardless of socio-economic position, age, culture or religion.

Abuse can be verbal or physical including sexual abuse. It can include isolating someone from family and friends, withholding money or family resources, emotional abuse and intimidation such as threats to harm you or others, damage to property, threats towards or actual harm of pets, and threats to commit suicide as a form of manipulation.

Family Violence after having a baby

Sadly, one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives.

For many, it is the first time that they will actually experience family violence. Women who are already in an abusive relationship may hope that pregnancy and/or having a baby will reform their partner and that they violence and/or manipulation will stop; however it is more likely to have the opposite effect, as rates of violence actually increase.

I thought, now that I am pregnant and having his baby, that it would all stop, but in fact things only got worse and he became even more abusive and aggressive towards me. I couldn’t understand why he would want to hurt our baby as well.

At this time of life when you have a young baby or young children, emotional abuse may take several forms.

It may for example, take the form of threats to report the woman to child welfare authorities as an unfit mother. A partner may obstruct access to postnatal care. They may refuse to support a woman financially.

Many women who experience family violence are reluctant to leave because they are financially vulnerable, or they fear what their partner may do. Their focus is usually on protecting their vulnerable baby or young children, and often they put themselves in vulnerable or dangerous positions, placing their own safety at risk, to protect the needs of their infant or other children.

Health Consequences in early parenthood

Family violence has significant mental health impacts for women, and is linked to postnatal depression, anxiety, and decreased attachment to the baby. It is also associated with lower rates of breastfeeding.

What to do?

If you are, or think you may be experiencing family or partner violence in early parenthood, it is important for you, your infant and other children you may have to seek help.

Talking to a trusted health professional in confidence is a good first step. This may be your GP or your maternal and child health nurse. These professionals will have knowledge and access to specialist services who can inform you of your rights, help you to access protection and support as well as provide you with strategies to manage the stress you are experiencing.

It can be difficult to accept that your partner has been abusive, and many women are reluctant to seek help due to feelings of shame. However, if your partner has been violent, even if he expresses remorse and you may both want to believe that he will change,it is still likely that abuse and violence will very often occur again.

There are a number of agencies that are specialised in assisting women who are in violent intimate relationships, and your health professional can help you link in with them. These services can provide assistance to make decisions, help you to learn about your rights, entitlements and options, and can advocate for you within the police or justice systems.

Remember that it is illegal for anyone to assault another person, regardless of whether they are living together or are married.

Having experienced trauma, abuse or violence in the past

For many women, pregnancy is a time when there are a lot of changes going on within yourself not only physically, but also emotionally. It is often a time when many women may become more sensitive or reflective of their past experiences, connections and relationships, and for some this can leave them feeling more vulnerable and/or distressed.

If you have experienced abuse in your childhood – that may be sexual, physical, or emotional, this can increase your vulnerability and hence your likelihood of feeling distressed during pregnancy. This can also lead you to being more prone to developing postnatal anxiety or depression.

There are a range of different therapies that can be very helpful. Although often remembering and reliving these experiences may be difficult and often painful, this can help you to acknowledge what has occurred, and you health professional can support you as you come to terms with the past events, and help you to move forward in a positive and constructive way.

These therapies are usually provided by psychotherapist or psychologists and psychiatrists with specialist training in psychotherapy.