One in eight mums-to-be attacked in their home
One in eight women has suffered domestic abuse during pregnancy.
Attacks on mums to be in the home are "particularly common", said Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony.
They can cause serious harm to women and increase the rates of miscarriage, stillbirth and pre-term birth.
Speaking at the SAFE Ireland Summit in Dublin yesterday, Dr Mahony said pregnant women are more likely to be "assaulted in their abdomen than in their face".
SAFE Ireland aims to transform the culture of gender based violence in Ireland.
"Domestic violence is surprisingly common and particularly common in pregnancy," Dr Mahony said.
"One in eight women, we estimate, suffer from domestic violence during pregnancy."
International figures suggest, on average, that 4pc to 8pc of women suffer significant domestic violence in pregnancy.
It is a higher rate than many of the diseases that maternity hospitals screen for during visits of expectant mothers, she said.
"Domestic violence during pregnancy does real harm to mothers and babies and to those in the family.
"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 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," she said.
Domestic violence affects all parts of society, "including the highly professional, together woman. She 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 numerous attacks before asking for help.
Shattered 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 family and friends.
It is vital that these women realise there is no shame in being a victim, she said.
Appointments when women visit maternity hospitals before the birth are a good time to bring up and address the issue of domestic violence.
"This is an ideal time because this is a particularly dangerous time when the women are pregnant," she said.
Staff meet the women on their own so have the chance to ask personal questions.
Even in a busy maternity hospital, women should be asked direct questions about domestic violence, she said.
Dr Mahony also said she would like to see more domestic violence counsellors appointed to maternity hospitals.
"I would like women to know they are not on their own and there is help there," she added.