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Neonaticide and Suspicious Perinatal Death: Time for a New Perspective

In this briefing Dr Milne explores the need for a change in our understanding and approach to suspected newborn child killing by mothers. Report front cover: Neonaticide and Suspicious Perinatal Death

The death of a newborn child or late-term foetus is always a tragedy, and one that is incredibly difficult to predict or prevent. Research suggests that suspected women are incredibly vulnerable and have experienced a ‘crisis’ pregnancy. The crisis leads a woman to conceal/deny her pregnancy from herself and those around her, resulting in the child dying around the time of birth – in the perinatal period.

This briefing, written for professionals involved in the safeguarding of children, draws on research from Durham University. Key findings suggest that we need to reframe how we consider and approach the death of newborn children. ‘Neonaticide’ has traditionally been used to describe such deaths. However, this term fails to adequately capture the experiences of affected women nor the nature of the death of the child. Furthermore, while newborn child death is incredibly difficult to detect and prevent, supporting women and empowering them to seek help when they experience a crisis pregnancy will have the greatest impact.

Recommendations:

  • The term ‘suspicious perinatal death’ should replace 'neonaticide' to more accurately labels the deaths of late term foetuses and newborn infants in the circumstances outlined here.
  • Accurate description of this type of suspicious death is essential to support those responsible for the protection of children and vulnerable women, assisting them to identify the issues that surround these cases, and so, hopefully, prevent deaths.
  • The best approach to preventing suspicious perinatal deaths is to increase community services for women: poverty relief, domestic abuse, reproductive health education and provision of contraception, and easy access to abortion services, including telemedical abortion.

Read the briefing: Neonaticide and Suspicious Perinatal Death