Impact of Domestic Violence on Babies in Womb

A new study indicates that domestic violence on pregnant women may result in affecting babies in their womb. It plays a major role on the well-being and developmental growth of children, who witness or experience violence.

The study is the first to link abuse of pregnant women with emotional and behavioural trauma symptoms in their children within the first year of life. The symptoms include nightmares, startling easily, being bothered by loud noises and bright lights, avoiding physical contact and experiencing trouble being happy.

“For clinicians and mothers, knowing that the prenatal experience of domestic violence can directly harm their babies maybe a powerful motivator to help them get out of such abusive situations,” said study co-author Alytia Levendosky, psychology professor at the Michigan State University in the US.

The study of 182 mothers, aged 18-34, found a surprisingly strong relationship between a mother’s pre-natal abuse by a male partner and post-natal trauma symptoms in their children. The researchers have examined the women’s parenting styles and also took into account risk factors such as drug use and other negative life events, marital status, age and income.

According to reports, children who witness domestic violence in the home are often considered and believed to blame, live in a constant state of fear and are 15 times more likely to be victims of child abuse. Also, children exposed to domestic violence at infancy are said to experience an inability to bond and form secure attachments, often resulting in intensified startle reactions and an inhibited sense of exploration and play.

As per Levendosky, parenatal abuse could cause changes in the mother’s stress response systems, increasing her levels of the hormone cortisol, which in turn could increase cortisol levels in the foetus.

“Cortisol is a neurotoxic, so it has damaging effects on the brain when elevated to excessive levels,” Levendosky said, “That might explain the emotional problems for the baby after birth.”

She added, “I think these findings send a strong message that the violence is affecting the baby even before the baby is born.”

The study appears in the research journal Child Abuse & Neglect. (IANS)


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