Pregnancy and Abuse: Safety During Postpartum

help for abused women

Pregnancy and Abuse: Safety During Postpartum

This post was contributed by Rebecca Donley and is the final post in a series about pregnancy and abuse. Read the first, second and third posts.

postpartumThe period immediately following childbirth can be immensely joyful for new parents. It is also often overwhelming to deal with the care of a new baby and adapt your lifestyle to what that entails. For parents with an abusive partner, this time is often a period of escalated stress and danger. Some studies have shown that experiencing abuse is a risk factor for postpartum depression and other postpartum mental health issues, so it may be helpful to share incidents of emotional, verbal and physical abuse with your prenatal healthcare provider so they can help you identify preventive measures for the postpartum period. You may also want to consider researching information on symptoms and support. Postpartum Support International has a wealth of information, including a page on pregnancy and postpartum mental health, a local support search and tools for self-assessment and self-care.

Your body will also be readjusting physically after pregnancy. After your body goes through childbirth, you will need a period of healing before engaging in sexual activity. Your doctor, nurse or midwife may advise you about this length of time depending on your birth experience. Your abusive partner may try to reassert power and control by dismissing or downplaying these recommendations using guilt, threats or even forcing sex before you are ready. These behaviors are sexual abuse and can create health issues or an extended healing period for you. Contacting your healthcare provider or a domestic violence program about these incidents may allow you to create a safety plan to increase your sexual and physical safety during this period. Examples of strategies you may use could include:

  • A support person staying in your home during the length of your healing;
  • Staying with your baby at a supportive family member or friend’s home or a shelter while you heal;
  • Sleeping in a separate part of the home from the abuser;
  • Adjusting your sleep schedule to times when your partner is away from the home;
  • If you are concerned that your partner is trying to get you pregnant again, identifying safe and undetectable contraceptive methods that don’t interfere with your child feeding choices.

As always, you know your situation the best, and these suggestions are not recommendations, but ideas for possible exploration if you think they could increase your safety.

As advocates, we use tools called Power and Control Wheels to discuss different types of abuse. There is even a Power and Control Wheel specific to the pregnancy and postpartum period. One of the sections on the original wheel is Using Children, and these tactics during this period can be especially impactful. It’s common for new parents to have to negotiate their preferences for child raising with one another. In an abusive situation, the abusive partner may ignore, override or sabotage the other parent’s wishes and concerns.

One area where this may come up is how to feed your baby. Some parents may wish to breastfeed, and others may choose to use formula to feed their child. In order to move forward with either of these methods, having your partner’s support is very important to feel successful. Breastfeeding has many benefits and may increase connection with your child and even help lessen the impacts of postpartum mental health disorders. However, it can also be physically and emotionally draining for some parents. If your partner belittles you for challenges that you have with breastfeeding, prevents you from having time to breastfeed or pump or pressures you to breastfeed without providing support, these may be red flags for abuse. Using formula to feed your child also has benefits, and may allow for increased healing and relief for new parents. This feeding method also requires funds to purchase formula and may take time to make bottles to feed your child. If your partner refuses to provide financial assistance for formula, makes you feel guilty for using formula or pressures you to feed your child with formula but will not help with making bottles or feeding your child, these may be red flags for abuse.

Another area where you may experience this is around your baby’s sleep. There are many methods and theories for helping infants (and their parents!) sleep. You can expect to make decisions around how to respond to your child when they wake, where to make your child’s sleeping area, what makes a safe sleeping atmosphere and who will respond to the baby. If your partner prevents you from creating a consistent sleep routine, purposefully starts fights near the child’s sleeping area, prohibits you from comforting your child or refuses to assist when the child awakens, these may be red flags for abuse.

If you are noticing these types of behaviors, it may be helpful to reach out for additional support. While you may have received immediate support from family and friends following your child’s birth, you may begin to feel isolated as visitors thin out. Your partner may behave in ways that make visitors uncomfortable, or you may just be entering a new phase that your friends do not relate to yet. There are many sources of support for new parents, and connecting with them can help get a perspective on your new role and how to best deal with your partner’s concerning words and actions. Your pediatrician or postpartum care physician may have information about support groups for new parents and their children, so it could help to contact their office about finding some resources. Social media and parenting websites like Baby Center, Parenting, The Bump, and What to Expect have forums where you can reach out to other parents and sometimes even find local groups and resources in your area.

You can also find groups that offer support that is specific to your parenting choices. Be mindful when joining any group that there may be parents who view parenting choices in a very concrete way and may not be as understanding of the circumstances you are dealing with in your relationship. Give yourself the space needed to separate from any group that is more about judging and giving advice than about supporting members with diverse life experiences. La Leche League International provides support and resources to breastfeeding parents; on their site you can look up information on local support meetings.The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program provides assistance for both breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women; you can find agency contacts for their nutrition and breastfeeding support programs on their website. Attachment Parenting International also offers information and resources to connecting with local parents who want to practice attachment parenting principles. Babywearing International is another group that has local support meetings for parents interested in babywearing practices.

If one-on-one support is more in line with your needs, you may want to consider reaching out to a postpartum doula. A postpartum doula provides assistance to parents acclimating to their new roles. They may provide support and education for breastfeeding and other skills that increase bonding between parents and babies, to grow parents’ self-confidence. You can use this search tool to find local postpartum doulas. If your insurance does not cover the costs of a postpartum doula, you may choose to ask if doulas offer pro bono or sliding scale services.

You can always contact The Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or live chat on the website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST to discuss these issues and more. In addition to creating a personal safety plan with you, we can also help you connect with local domestic violence programs which may offer support groups, advocacy services, individual counseling and child care assistance.

Comment section

9 replies
  1. It is nice when a woman has a good support during the childbirth. But in case of domestic abuse she is even more vulnerable than during pregnancy and the abuser may start to be violent again, e.g. because of jealousy. This is the time when the woman has to be a real hero to cope with taking care of her baby and herself.

  2. Hi Victoria,

    We’re so glad that you’re part of our online community and appreciate your support. We agree that pregnancy and childbirth are especially stressful, scary and dangerous times for a domestic violence survivor. Every survivor should have the support and resources they need, and we recognize that this is often not the experience that many have. Surviving an abusive relationship takes courage and strength, and acknowledging this is often an empowering experience for a survivor.

    Thanks again for your support!

    Hotline Advocate AS

  3. What if the new mom is the one who gets aggressive and violent? I love my wife but am scared for myself and especially our baby.

  4. Hi Concerned Father,

    Thank you for being brave enough to reach out to us.

    No matter what the gender of the person behaving abusively, becoming violent or aggressive towards a partner is never ok or justified. Also, you are completely right to feel that abuse happens to men too. In fact, abuse is something that can happen to people of all ages, races, and genders. This is because abuse is all about power and control.

    People abuse because they feel entitled to have the control in the relationship, so often they will manipulate, guilt, or become violent as a way to maintain that power. Also, fear is the number one sign of an abusive relationship. So if you are feeling scared that your wife might do something, then that could definitely be a red flag.

    If you would like to talk more about this situation, we would definitely encourage you to contact us directly. We are always here 24/7 by phone at 1-800-799-7233 or 7am-2amCT through our chat in the right corner at https://www.thehotline.org/

    Best Wishes,
    Advocate KB

  5. When I was pregnant with my now 18 month old daughter, her father began physically abusive, in addition to already being verbally, as well as mentally abusive. Well during the second time it happened I felt so afraid for my unborn baby’s life, (as well as my own, but more so for her!) that I escaped our home @ 2 a.m., basically naked, (…because that’s how I slept. I had woke to use the bathroom before the assault happened.). Well that night he was arrested, but that was the end of my nightmare! I became homeless, (and still am!), and I lived in 3 shelters, (where the verbal & mental abuse continued), up until the time my baby was 3 months old. Well now I live with family, but I am so depressed that I have yet to get my life, or my mind back on track. I was diagnosed with server clinical, as well as postpartum depression. I am living with family who also put me through mental & verbal abuse daily, and that’s why I believe that I can’t shake my depression. It’s hard to find and job, and I so desperately want to move out of this situation, and into my own place, s ok that I can have a peaceful place to call my own! Is there anything anyone can do to help?!

  6. I am a survivor and sort of stumbled across this site from answering a poll question. I am thankful for all the information I see and resources available. I know it’s not easy to get help when you feel the abuse could escalate. It took me so many attempts and years, sadly, but I had to be safe. It’s not easy to take care of your child/children and yourself while tornadoes or volcanoes seem to erupt all around you. As a broken family, we still need support many times because we are on the other side and can’t believe what we went through. I remember being so scared myself, and then to try to protect the young, the innocent, from the people they should feel the most safe with. Most importantly, is those that are experiencing the eye of the storm so to speak now and how to receive help when they are crying out silently. I will pray for those suffering that they will find hope, help, and healing. Sending love to all.

  7. Hi ShaquaTõnía,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and bravely reaching out for the support and resources you need. It takes so much courage to survive what you have, while protecting a child, and I hear how frustrating it is that you’ve escaped your abusive partner to now experience abuse from your family. You and your daughter both deserve to be safe and to be treated with respect. It sounds like you have great goals to create a life where both of you have the safety you need.

    One resource that may be helpful is 211, your local, community info line which is operated by United Way in many areas of the country. If you’d like to give us a call (anytime 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233) or chat us here online (every day from 7a-2a CST), we can also look up local domestic violence programs that may be able to help as well as brainstorm ideas with you about other resources that may be available. We truly hope you’re able to find the support you need to create the safe and happy home that you and your daughter deserve.

    We’re here for you!

    Hotline Advocate AS

  8. Hello Carolyn,

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and encouragement with our online community. We know how much hope can mean to someone still looking for the safe time to leave or the resources they need to be safe, and hearing from someone who has been there can be incredibly powerful. We are so glad to hear that you were able to find the safety that you and your children deserve.

    Take care!

    Hotline Advocate AS

  9. Shaquatonia, I’m a fellow mom with young babies, dealing with a different scenario, but feel your fear and frustration. Most importantly, I feel your perseverance and courage. You’ve taken action! You’ve removed yourself from bad situations and you know who are toxic relations. This is a major accomplishment! You are smart, savvy, resourceful, and doing the right thing for you and your daughter, no matter what. When you have a hard day or get overwhelmed by the changing circumstances, remember to aim for small goals that pave the way to your bigger goals. Take it 1 day at a time and celebrate the small steps and the beautiful moments you have day-to-day with you precious daughter. Keep moving forward! You are not alone.

Comments are closed.

caret-downemailfacebookgoogleplusLove is Respect Heart Iconlinkedinmagnifying-glasspdfpinterestreddittumblrtwitter
Click to go back to top of page.