Denial of pregnancy and neonaticide: a poorly understood association. A clinical case report

A. Josset, Ch. Reynaert Published in the journal : January 2016 Category : Ethics

Summary :

Mrs. H., aged 44 years, was unaware of her pregnancy when giving birth to a child in her bathroom, all by herself. She panicked and pressed the newborn against her chest just before fainting. When she regained consciousness shortly thereafter, her baby had died. The court sentenced her to prison for 10 years. This case is rather rare, yet far from being exceptional. Similar incidents have been reported in the past, some of these neonaticide mothers being found not guilty at trial. The vast majority of mothers did not have any apparent psychiatric disorder. The literature is inconsistent as to whether these women share similar characteristics or not.

The increase in neonaticide cases could indicate the existence of a particular disorder, characterized by acute stress experienced by women giving suddenly birth to a newborn while being unprepared. To prevent this, women should be well informed in advance about contraception and be aware of the existence of pregnancy denial. In the event of suspected pregnancy, pregnancy tests should systematically be performed, at any ages. Special consideration should be given to patients with a complicated obstetrical history for whom a very close follow-up is required.