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Family violence during pregnancy

7-minute read

If you (or someone else) are in danger, or if you have been threatened, physically hurt or sexually assaulted, call triple zero (000).

Family violence (also known as domestic violence) is a serious issue in Australia. It can begin or become worse during pregnancy. Below, you can find some information about how to recognise family violence and what to do about it.

Types of family violence

Family violence is described by the Family Law Act 1975 as: “violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a member of the person’s family or cause the family member to be fearful".

A child is exposed to family violence if they see or hear family violence or experience its effects.

Family violence can include coercive and controlling behaviour. It does not have to include physical violence or threats. It can involve many types of abuse:

  • Emotional abuse, including blaming, undermining, name calling, bad moods, making the victim feel guilty, harassment, stalking, yelling, insulting and swearing.
  • Financial abuse, including taking control of all money and finances, stopping someone from working, restricting their access to money, credit cards or bank accounts and identity theft to get credit.
  • Physical abuse, including shaking, pushing, hitting, kicking, driving dangerously, trying to choke and physical restraint, deliberately damaging or destroying property and deliberately causing death or injury to a pet.
  • Sexual abuse, including rape, unwanted touching, sexual jokes, forced sex without contraception, deliberately causing pain during sex and any other type of forced or unwanted sexual activity.
  • Social abuse, including keeping someone away from family and friends, controlling who they see, monitoring phone calls and emails, undermining their family or friends, and insulting or criticising in front of others.
  • Verbal abuse, including criticism, name-calling, attacks on someone’s intelligence or how they look, swearing and yelling.

Domestic violence during pregnancy

Statistics suggest that females are at greater risk of experiencing domestic violence from their partner during pregnancy, as well as up to one month after the birth. This is also known as intimate partner violence. You may experience this abuse for the first time, or it may get worse while you are pregnant.

Some people still have the view that a male is the ‘head of the household’ and therefore should control the house and relationship. They often see the female’s role as passive, and willing to be available both physically and emotionally when he wants them. Males with these limited views are more likely to perpetrate domestic violence.

Males who engage in family violence may resent that their pregnant partner is:

  • less able to contribute to household chores
  • can’t socialise as often
  • isn’t as sexually or emotionally available to them

This can trigger responses that lead them to show more controlling and abusive behaviour.

Younger females and females who have an unplanned pregnancy are often emotionally and economically vulnerable and more at risk of domestic violence.Females who have experienced sexual abuse from their partner are also at greater risk of abuse during pregnancy.

Harm both to mother and baby

Family violence is never okay and is always dangerous. It is linked to several types of harm, both to a pregnant mother and her unborn baby. These include:

  • a lower birth weight
  • miscarriage or premature labour
  • fetal distress and injury
  • depression, anxiety and stress experienced by the mother during pregnancy which can affect a child’s mental health later in life
  • Find out more on this website about how family violence affects babies and children.

    What are the warning signs to look out for?

    Domestic violence involves domination, intimidation and control, and if a partner starts becoming more jealous, possessive and controlling, they may:

    • check up on you more frequently
    • repeatedly accuse you of being unfaithful
    • scare you or hurt you
    • make you nervous or afraid to say no
    • control who you see or what you wear
    • criticise you and those people you love more frequently
    • say that you’re imagining things or making them up
    • restrict your access to money or places
    • force you to do something or mislead you
    • tell you that you’ll have no support if you leave

    What should I do if I am being abused?

    You should get help. Talk to a safe person. Don’t keep this to yourself or try to protect the offender.

    If you are being abused, you may be told by the person abusing you that what you are experiencing is not a big deal. But it is.

    It is never OK for someone to abuse you. It’s important for you and your baby that you seek advice and get support.

    If you are in immediate danger, call the police on triple zero (000).

    Other support organisations you can contact include the following:

    • Call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 RESPECT or 1800 737 732 (24 Hours a day, 7 days a week).
    • In the Australian Capital Territory, call Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT on (02) 6280 0900 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
    • In New South Wales, call the Domestic Violence Line on 1800 65 64 63 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
    • In the Northern Territory, call Dawn House on (08) 8945 1388 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
    • In Queensland, call DV Connect on 1800 811 811 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
    • In South Australia, call the Domestic Violence Crisis Line on 1800 800 098 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
    • In Victoria, call the Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre on 1800 015 188 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
    • In Western Australia, call the Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline on 1800 007 339 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) or (08) 9223 1188.
    • In Tasmania, call the Family Violence Counselling and Support Service on 1800 608 122 (9am to midnight weekdays, and 4pm to midnight weekends and public holidays).

    What should I do if someone I know is being abused?

    If you’re worried about someone you know, you can find out more about the signs of domestic violence. This may help you identify some of these signs and start a conversation with the person you are concerned about.

    You can also call one of the support organisations above to ask for advice.

    If a pregnant woman lets you know that she is being abused, you can support her by:

    • listening without making any judgement and being supportive
    • telling her you believe her and it’s not her fault
    • asking her if she needs help from a support service and offering to give her one of the support service numbers above
    • letting her know you’ll go with her to the support organisation if she wants
    • staying in touch and continuing to check how she is

    Speak to a maternal child health nurse

    Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

    Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

    Last reviewed: August 2022

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    Need more information?

    Family Violence During Pregnancy

    The definition of family violence includes physical or sexual violence, psychological abuse, reproductive coercion and other controlling or coercive behaviours. This could include aggression, threats to yourself or others, isolating you from other people, intimidation, withholding money, damage to property or pets, and threats to commit suicide as a form of manipulation. These pose a risk to both women’s physical safety, mental health, and the health of a baby during pregnancy.

    Read more on Gidget Foundation Australia website

    Abuse or family violence in pregnancy - COPE

    COPE's purpose is to prevent and improve the quality of life of those living with emotional and mental health problems that occur prior to and within the perinatal period.

    Read more on COPE - Centre of Perinatal Excellence website

    Domestic and family violence | 1800RESPECT

    Domestic and family violence is a repeated pattern of behaviour. Abuse doesn't have to be physical to be domestic or family violence.

    Read more on 1800RESPECT website

    Family violence: what is it? | Raising Children Network

    Family violence takes many forms, and it’s never OK. If you think someone is experiencing family violence, there are signs to look for and ways to get help.

    Read more on website

    How family violence affects babies and children

    Domestic and family violence can affect babies and children. Find out about the impact on babies and children and where you can turn to for help.

    Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

    Domestic violence and abusive relationships

    Domestic violence (or family violence) is when someone uses violence to maintain power over someone they’re close to. Learn about signs, effects and what you can do if you're in an abusive relationship.

    Read more on healthdirect website

    Are you, or someone else, feeling unsafe? | Adults Supporting Kids

    Everyone has the right to feel safe in their relationships

    Read more on Adults Supporting Kids ASK website

    Making decisions about unplanned pregnancies

    Having an unplanned pregnancy can be an emotional experience. There will be decisions you will need to make, but there are services available to help you through this time.

    Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

    Early signs of pregnancy

    If you have a regular menstrual cycle, the most reliable sign of pregnancy is a missed period. Find out some other early signs that you are pregnant.

    Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

    Thinking of having a baby - Pregnancy and the first five years

    This consumer brochure provides a guide to women planning a pregnancy and on becoming pregnant.

    Read more on NSW Health website

    Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

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