Domestic violence doesn't only hurt women, according to a new study. It harms their kids, too: Infants born to mothers who report family violence suffer more bouts of diarrhea and infections of the airways such as pneumonia, which are the two leading causes of death and illness among children in the developing world.

Studies have already linked violence against women to a higher risk of death among their children, Dr. Kajsa Asling-Monemi of Uppsala University in Sweden and her colleagues note in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, but less is known about how family violence might affect children's risk of getting sick.

The findings are more evidence that violence against women can have an effect on their children, particularly in poverty-stricken areas where infant mortality is already high, the authors conclude based on their new study from Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, the researchers add, infant mortality rates have been falling, but are still 10 times higher than those in rich nations. And in South Asia, they add, domestic violence is extremely common.

To investigate, the researchers followed 3,132 babies whose mothers were participating in a study of nutrition during pregnancy. Half of the women said they had experienced family violence in their lifetimes, and just 11 percent of the babies remained free of diarrheal or lung infections during 12 months of follow-up.

Overall, the babies whose mothers reported family violence were 20% more likely to develop diarrhea, and 31% more likely to develop infections of their lungs and lower airways. Any sort of family violence against mothers-from controlling behavior to emotional violence to physical or sexual violence-independently boosted the risk that babies would get sick with either condition.

The relationship between violence and illness was stronger for female babies, and in situations where the violence was more severe.

The babies of abused mothers weighed less at birth, and might have been more likely to be undernourished as well, but these factors would only explain part of the association between family violence and infant illness, the researchers say.

Perhaps most importantly, an association between family violence and infant mortality could be explained by abused mothers being depressed, emotionally stressed, and socially isolated, they add. This reduces a mother's ability to cope with the every day needs of a small child and diminishes the quality of care giving behavior, which is important in preventing infant illness.

SOURCE: Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, October 2009.