Babies whose mothers are exposed to domestic violence during pregnancy are more than twice as likely to die in the first weeks of life, a new study shows.
One in five stillbirths and early infant deaths could potentially be prevented if such violence could be eliminated, Dr. Saifuddin Ahmed of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and colleagues conclude in a report in the American Journal of Public Health.
While the current study was conducted in Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India where violence against women is common and child mortality is high, the relationship between violence during pregnancy and early infant death likely holds true for women and children everywhere, Ahmed told Reuters Health in an interview.
“The babies are definitely at risk, and the women are definitely at risk,” he said.
The researchers looked at data from 2,199 women and their husbands in Uttar Pradesh. Nearly one in five (18.3 percent) of the women had experienced some physical violence during pregnancy, the researchers found, and their infants were 36 percent more likely to die before reaching one year of age.
Babies were 2.5 times more likely to die during the perinatal period - defined as from 28 weeks of pregnancy to 7 days after birth - and 2.3 times more likely to die in the first month after birth.
The mortality risk associated with domestic violence declined as infants got older.
There are a number of possible explanations for the increased risk of infant death with domestic violence, the researchers note. Striking a mother can directly harm the fetus. Women who experience domestic violence may be more stressed and have poorer nutrition, and may be less likely to get prenatal care.
Ahmed and his colleagues note that while efforts to boost child survival have focused chiefly on health, the findings of the current study suggest that they should address domestic violence as well.
“Our results underscore the need for public education and awareness programs that highlight the serious and negative consequences of domestic violence for the health and well-being of both mothers and their children,” they conclude.
SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, August 2006.
Revision date: July 4, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD