, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 31-43

Physical Abuse Around the Time of Pregnancy: An Examination of Prevalence and Risk Factors in 16 States

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Abstract

Objectives: From self-reports we describe and compare the levels and patterns of physical abuse before and during pregnancy while also describing the demographic and pregnancy-related characteristics of physically abused women, the stressful experiences of abused women prior to delivery, and the relationship of the abused woman to the perpetrator(s). Methods: We used population-based estimates from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (1996–98) to calculate a multiyear 16-state prevalence with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) and unadjusted risk ratios for demographic, pregnancy-related, and stressful experiences variables. Results: We found the prevalence of abuse across the 16 states to be 7.2% (95% CI, 6.9-7.6) during the 12 months before pregnancy, 5.3% (95% CI, 5.0–5.6) during pregnancy, and 8.7% (95% CI, 8.3–9.1) around the time of pregnancy (abuse before or during pregnancy). The prevalence of physical abuse during pregnancy across the 16 states was consistently lower than that before pregnancy. For time periods both before and during pregnancy, higher prevalence was found for women who were young, not White, unmarried, had less than 12 years of education, received Medicaid benefits, or had unintended pregnancies, and for women with stressful experiences during pregnancy, particularly being involved in a fight or increased arguing with a husband or partner. For each of these risk groups, the prevalence was lower during pregnancy than before. Abuse was ongoing before pregnancy for three quarters of the women experiencing abuse by a husband or partner during pregnancy. Conclusions: Women are not necessarily at greater risk of physical abuse when they are pregnant than before pregnancy. Both the preconception period and the period during pregnancy are periods of risk, which suggests that prevention activities are appropriate during routine health care visits before pregnancy as well as during family planning and prenatal care.