Women who suffer domestic violence during pregnancy are at an increased risk of post-natal depression and health professionals should know the warning signs.

Dr Kathleen Baird from the Menzies Health Institute of Queensland, was a speakerChallenging the Mental Illness/Violence Nexus conference. Shesaid it was imperative that health professionals wereable to identify and respond to partner violence among women attending antenatal and mental health services.

“For 30% of women who experience domestic violence, the first incidence will occur during pregnancy,’’ she said.

Dr Kathleen Baird

Dr Kathleen Baird

Dr Baird studied a group of 11 women who had been pregnant in the previous two years. The women were physically and sexually abused, experienced enforced isolation and financial hardship.

“Despite regular visits to their GPs, none of the women was asked about their home circumstances, or whether they were living with domestic abuse.

“Following birth all health care professionals assumed the woman’s depression was linked with ‘baby blues’ or postnatal depression.”

Dr Baird said while physical injuries were of great consequence, it was the psychological and emotional effects of the ongoing abuse, which had the most impact upon the women’s wellbeing.

“They suffered extreme psychological distress, including depression before, during and after pregnancy. The women talked about the long- term psychological effects of living with abuse and their perpetual state of alertness to the imminent abuse.

“Experiencing domestic violence at any time in a woman’s life can result in a multitude of harmful health problems, but violence during pregnancy is of special concern, as the violence not only poses a threat to the woman but also to her foetus. Providing midwifery care in a continuity of care model would reduce the missed opportunities for disclosure.

“The precise relationship between pregnancy and domestic violence remains unclear. However, what is known is that the consequences of domestic violence during pregnancy include a higher incidence of neonatal death, premature labour, low birth weight infants and miscarriage.”