Author: Rozemarijn Wortelboer

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a major public health problem. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of injury, disability, ill-health and death in many parts of the world, especially among women (WHO 2012).

Abuse in its different forms can result in various negative physical and psychological health outcomes. For women, it can take a toll on their reproductive and maternal health as well.

What is Reproductive and Maternal Health?

The World Health Organization defines intimate partner violence as “any behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationship” (WHO 2012). Reproductive health refers to the functioning of the reproductive system – namely the bodily system concerned with sexual reproduction – whereas maternal health is defined as a woman’s health status during pregnancy, birth and postpartum (WHO 2012).

Here, it is important to note that physical and psychological health do not operate in isolation. Not only does mental health influence one’s health behavior, certain stressors can actually impact one’s physical health directly, for instance by suppressing the immune system, leaving the body weakened against illnesses and infection (Campbell 2002).

The Consequences of IPV on Women’s Health

Women who are or have previously been exposed to IPV are often recorded with higher levels of anxiety and depression, and show high prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse (Srakar 2008). Such chronic stress caused by trauma can greatly impact the maternal system, for example by causing irregular periods and depressed estrogen levels, a hormone crucial for keeping female reproductive organs such as the ovaries and the uterus functional (Campbell 2002).

Abused women often also show more self-reported gastrointestinal symptoms such as loss of appetite or eating disorders, both of which impact reproductive abilities and maternal health through their negative effects on hormone levels and fat mass (Sarkar 2008).

Finally, trauma or fear associated with intimacy can influence one’s sexual needs as well, thereby placing a large burden on a woman if she is desires having children (Khan 1998).

Apart from their mental health, a victim’s physical health may also be greatly affected by instances of IPV. Injuries or resulting disabilities can greatly stress the body, leading to lesser gestational weight gain, lower birth weight of the infant, pre-term delivery or even neonatal death (Sarkar 2008). Furthermore, IPV-exposed women often report breastfeeding less or for shorter periods of time (Sarkar 2008).

The Long-Term Effects of IPV

Thus, whether physically visible or not, the consequences of IPV are dangerous and unpredictable. And if they affect one’s reproductive and maternal health, they may be incredibly far-reaching as well.


Campbell, J.C. (2002). “Health consequences of intimate partner violence.” Lancet 359(9314): 1331–36.

Khan, N. (1998). “Sexual and physical abuse: a threat to reproductive and sexual health.” Sexual Health Exchange 1: 1-3.

Sarkar, N. N. (2008). “The impact of intimate partner violence on women’s reproductive health and pregnancy outcome.” Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 28(3): 266-271.

World Health Organization (2012). “Understanding and addressing violence against women: Intimate partner violence.” World Health Organization. At

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