Child murder by mothers: a critical analysis of the current state of knowledge and a research agenda

Am J Psychiatry. 2005 Sep;162(9):1578-87. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.162.9.1578.


Objective: Maternal filicide, or child murder by mothers, occurs more frequently in the United States than in other developed nations. However, little is known about factors that confer risk to children. The authors review the literature to identify predictors of maternal filicide and identify gaps in knowledge about maternal filicide.

Method: Databases were systematically searched for studies of maternal filicide and neonaticide (murder in the first day of life) that were conducted in industrialized countries and were published in peer-reviewed, English-language publications after 1980.

Results: Women who committed filicide varied greatly by the type of sample studied. Neonaticide was often committed by young, poor, unmarried women with little or no prenatal care.

Conclusions: The results of the review suggest that little is known about the predictors of maternal filicide and that a systematic, focused program of research on reliable markers for maternal filicide is needed to better prevent these events.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Mortality / trends*
  • Criminal Law
  • Denial, Psychological
  • England
  • Female
  • Homicide / psychology
  • Homicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Homicide / trends*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infanticide / psychology
  • Infanticide / statistics & numerical data
  • Infanticide / trends
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Mothers / statistics & numerical data
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Unwanted / psychology
  • Prenatal Care / standards
  • Research Design / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Violence / psychology
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data