'1 in 8 pregnant women are subject to domestic violence' - Dr Rhona
One in eight pregnant women are subjected to domestic violence, the Master of the National Maternity Hospital has said.
What is more, a violent partner is more likely to strike a pregnant woman in the abdomen rather than in her face, said Dr Rhona Mahony.
"Domestic violence is surprisingly common and particularly common in pregnancy," she said in an address to the Safe Ireland seminar on domestic violence in Dublin yesterday.
"One in eight women, we estimate, suffer from domes- tic violence during pregnancy.
International figures suggest that up to 8pc of pregnant women suffer significant domestic violence, which is a higher rate than many of the diseases mat- ernity hospitals screen for during visits of expectant mothers.
"Domestic violence during pregnancy does real harm to mothers and babies and to those in the family," said Dr Mahony.
"It is associated with increased rates of miscarriage, stillbirth, pre-term birth, anxiety and depression.
"In pregnancy, women are more likely to be assaulted in their abdomen than in their face. Pregnancy is not protective. In fact, up to 10pc of cases of domestic violence start for the first time during pregnancy or escalate during pregnancy."
Domestic violence affects all parts of society, "including the highly professional woman, who also could be hiding a secret and is also scared to tell her story", said Dr Mahony.
Shame and stigma are still felt by victims and many experience a number of attacks before disclosing the assaults. Some never disclose them.
Shattering their self-esteem can result in the women using alcohol, drugs or cigarettes as coping mechanisms to try to deal with the painful reality.
The violence causes deep depression and anxiety and can lead women to withdraw from the very people who could give them support.
It is vital that these women realise there is no shame in being a victim, said Dr Mahony.
Asking women about home violence when they visit maternity hospitals "is an ideal time because this is a particularly dangerous time when women are pregnant", she added.
It is a time when staff meet the women on their own, so they can be asked questions. Even in a busy maternity hospital, women should be asked direct questions about domestic violence, said Dr Mahony.
She later told the Herald that more domestic violence counsellors should be appointed to maternity hospitals.
She said there should be more support for social worker teams, more awareness and frequent direct questioning of women by professionals in a safe environment.
"I would like women to know that they would not be on their own and they will not be judged and there is help there," said Dr Mahony.