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Objective  To determine the prevalence of physical violence during pregnancy and the factors associated with it.

Design  A population-based, multicentre, cross sectional household survey.

Setting  Rural, slum and urban non-slum areas of Bhopal, Chennai, Delhi, Lucknow, Nagpur, Trivandrum and Vellore, in India.

Participants  A total of 9938 women who were 15 to 49 years of age and living with a child younger than 18 years old.

Methods  Probability proportionate to size sampling of households was performed in three strata. Trained field workers administered a structured questionnaire. Women who reported domestic violence were asked about violence during pregnancy. Outcome variables included six violent behaviours: slap, hit, kick, beat, use of weapon and harm in any other way. Moderate to severe violence was defined as experience of any one or more of the following behaviours: hit, beat or kick. Odds ratios were calculated for risk and protective factors of violence during pregnancy using logistic regression.

Main outcome measures  Physical spousal violence.

Results  The lifetime experience, during pregnancy, of being slapped was 16%, hit 10%, beat 10%, kicked 9%, use of weapon 5% and harmed in any other way 6%. Eighteen percent of women experienced at least one of these behaviours and 3% experienced all six. The overall prevalence of moderate to severe violence during pregnancy was 13%. Logistic regression showed that the factors determining whether a woman experienced moderate to severe violence during pregnancy were: husband accusing wife of an affair (OR 7.1; 95% CI 5.1 to 9.8), dowry harassment (OR 4.1; 95% CI 2.8 to 6.1), husband having an affair (OR 3.7; 95% CI 2.8 to 4.8), husband being regularly drunk (OR 3.2; 95% CI 2.6 to 4.1), low education of husband (OR 2.8; 95% CI 1.4 to 5.6), substance abuse by husband (OR 2.6; 95% CI 1.3 to 5.5), no social support (OR 1.8; 95% CI 1.1 to 3.0), three or more children (OR 1.6; 95% CI 1.2 to 2.1) and household crowding (OR 1.1; 95% CI 1.0 to 1.2).

Conclusion  In this study, 12.9% of women experienced moderate to severe physical violence during pregnancy. Suspicion of infidelity, dowry harassment, husband being regularly drunk and low education of husband were the main risk factors for violence during pregnancy.