Archives of Women's Mental Health

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 569–573 | Cite as

Foetal abuse

  • Paula Fernandez AriasEmail author
  • Keiko Yoshida
  • Ian F Brockington
  • Jennifer Kernreiter
  • Claudia M Klier
Review Article


Pregnancy and motherhood are often presented as natural and unproblematic for women. The fact that there are some women who engage in violent behaviour towards their unborn child suggests that motherhood is not as unproblematic as we are led to believe. This paper presents six previously unpublished cases of foetal abuse that is physical assaults on the foetus by the mothers themselves, and examines how the prevailing myth of the good mother might be further endangering mothers and their unborn children. So far, the research suggests there are some common, possibly co-occurring, features that might be an antecedent to foetal abuse: unplanned pregnancies, prior mental health issues in the mother, trauma, pregnancy denial up to 20 weeks or until birth, and ideation of harm correlated to in utero movements.


Foetal abuse Pregnancy Pregnancy denial Motherhood Neonaticide Childhood abuse 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.

Ethical standards

All results were derived from studies that had full approval by the appropriate ethics committee.


  1. Bonnet C (1993) Adoption at birth: prevention against abandonment or neonaticide. Child Abuse Negl 17:501–513CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brezinka C, Brezinka C, Biebl W, Kinzl J (1994) Denial of pregnancy: obstetrical aspects. J Psychosom Obstet Gynecol 15:1–8. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brockington IF, Fraser C, Wilson D (2006) The postpartum bonding questionnaire: a validation. Arch Women's Ment Health 9:233–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Condon TJ (1986) The Spectrum of fetal abuse in pregnant women. J Nerv Ment Dis 174:509–516CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Condon JT (1987) “The battered fetus syndrome”. Preliminary data on the incidence of the urge to physically abuse the unborn child. J Nerv Ment Dis 175:722–725CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Feasey R (2013) From soap opera to reality programming: examining motherhood, motherwork and the maternal role on popular television. J Cross_Cult Image Stud 4:25–46Google Scholar
  7. Friedman SH, Resnick PJ (2009) Neonaticide: phenomenology and considerations for prevention. Int J Law Psychiatry 32:43–47. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Friedman SH, Sorrentino RM, Stankowski JE, Holden CE, Resnick PJ (2008) Psychiatrists’ knowledge about maternal filicidal thoughts. Compr Psychiatry 49:106–110. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Friedman SH, Heneghan A, Rosenthal M (2009) Disposition and health outcomes among infants born to mothers with no prenatal care. Child Abuse Negl 33:116–122. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Gressier F, Guillard V, Cazas O, Falissard B, Glangeaud-Freudenthal NMC, Sutter-Dallay A-L (2016) Risk factors for suicide attempt in pregnancy and the post-partum period in women with serious mental illnesses. J Psychiatr Res 84:284–291. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Henderson A, Harmon S, Newman H (2016) The price mothers pay, even when they are not buying it: mental health consequences of idealized motherhood. Sex Roles 74:512–526. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kenner WD, Nicolson SE (2015) Psychosomatic disorders of gravida status: false and denied pregnancies. Psychosomatics 56:119–128. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Kent L, Laidlaw JDD, Brockington F (1997) Fetal abuse. Child Abuse Negl 21:181–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Klier CM, Grylli C, Amon S, Fiala C, Weizmann-Henelius G, Pruitt S, Putkonen H (2013) Is the introduction of anonymous delivery associated with a reduction of high neonaticide rates in Austria? A retrospective study. BJOG 120:428–434. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Muzik M, Ads M, Bonham C, Lisa Rosenblum K, Broderick A, Kirk R (2013) Perspectives on trauma-informed care from mothers with a history of childhood maltreatment: a qualitative study. Child Abuse Negl 37:1215–1224. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Oppenheim H (1919) Über misopädie. Zeitschrift für die gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie 45:1–18. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Pollock PH, Percy A (1999) Maternal antenatal attachment style and potential fetal abuse (statistical data included). Child Abuse Negl 23:1345–1357CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Pugh RJ (1978) The battered fetus. Br Med J 1:858CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Rich AC (1986) Of woman born: motherhood as experience and institution. Norton, New York, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  20. Sandoz P (2011) Reactive-homeostasis as a cybernetic model of the silhouette effect of denial of pregnancy. Med Hypotheses 77:782–785. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Schroedel JR, Peretz P (1994) A gender analysis of policy formation: the case of fetal abuse. J Health Polit Policy Law 19:335–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Seigneurie AS, Limosin F (2012) Déni de grossesse et néonaticide : aspects cliniques et psychopathologiques. Rev Méd interne 33:635–639. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Sherr L, Mueller J, Fox Z (2009) Abandoned babies in the UK - a review utilizing media reports. Child Care Health Dev 35:419–430. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Simmat-Durand L (2017) Neonaticides in France: analysis of 357 cases identified in the press (1993-2012). Sante Publique (Vandoeuvre-les-Nancy, France) 29:321–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Sinai-Glazer H (2015) Who else is in the room? The good mother myth in the social worker–mother client encounter. Soc Policy Soc 15:351–367. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Wessel J, Buscher U (2002) Denial of pregnancy: population based study. Br Med J 324:458–458CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Wittkowski A, Wieck A, Mann S (2007) An evaluation of two bonding questionnaires: a comparison of the Mother-to-Infant Bonding Scale with the Postpartum Bonding Questionnaire in a sample of primiparous mothers. Arch Womens Ment Health 10:171–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Austria, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paula Fernandez Arias
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Keiko Yoshida
    • 3
  • Ian F Brockington
    • 4
  • Jennifer Kernreiter
    • 5
  • Claudia M Klier
    • 5
  1. 1.Society & Health Research Center (CISS)Universidad MayorSantiagoChile
  2. 2.Monash Deakin Filicide Research Hub, Department of Social WorkMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.Iris Psychiatric ClinicFukuokaJapan
  4. 4.University of BirminghamBromyardUK
  5. 5.Department of Paediatrics and Adolescent MedicineMedical University of ViennaViennaAustria

Personalised recommendations