Mothers who killed or attempted to kill their child: life circumstances, childhood abuse, and types of killing

Violence Vict. 1999 Fall;14(3):219-39.


The objectives of the present study were to examine the life circumstances, childhood abuse, and types of homicidal acts of 48 mothers who killed/attempted to kill their child(ren) under age 12 between 1970-96 in Finland. Data on the mothers'life stresses, psychological problems, and childhood abuse were collected from mental state examination (MSE) reports. The cases were divided into 15 neonaticides and 33 mothers who killed an older child. Childhood abuse was documented in 63% of the mothers' MSE reports. Qualitative analysis identified neonaticides,joint homicide-suicide attempts, impulsive aggression, psychotic acts, postpartum depression, and abusive acts. Nonlinear principal components analysis showed that different variables were related to the neonaticide and non-neonaticide cases. We concluded that despite differences in the psychosocial profiles of neonaticides and other maternal homicidal acts the cycle of violence perspective can be applied to both cases, even though it may not be a sufficient explanation for maternal child killings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Aggression / psychology
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / classification
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child Abuse / trends
  • Child, Preschool
  • Depression, Postpartum / psychology
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Homicide / classification
  • Homicide / psychology*
  • Homicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Homicide / trends
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Mental Status Schedule
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution