Towards a new understanding of pregnancy denial: the misunderstood dissociative disorder

Arch Womens Ment Health. 2022 Feb;25(1):51-59. doi: 10.1007/s00737-021-01176-7. Epub 2021 Aug 15.


Pervasive pregnancy denial is a misunderstood reproductive anomaly which compromises the health of both mother and the developing fetus. Because in extreme cases, the death of the neonate at the hands of his/her mother has criminal repercussions, research has attempted to explain the origins of this clinical phenomenon. The purpose of this review is to analyze the evolution of understanding the association between pregnancy denial and neonaticide. This paper identifies the consistent similarities in symptom presentation, particularly dissociation, when a denied pregnancy ends with the death of the newborn. The common thread across the progression of the literature over time serves as a foundation for considering the development of diagnostic criteria for future inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This paper reviews the seminal research from 1969 to current research up to 2020 addressing pregnancy denial and its connection to neonaticide. Peer reviewed and published articles related to key terms around "pregnancy denial," "pregnancy concealment," "neonaticide," and "dissociation" were retrieved from major databases such as PubMed, PsychINFO, JSTOR, ProQEST, ScienceDirect, and Google Scholar. Reference lists of relevant articles were also scanned to search for further papers pertaining to similarities in symptom presentation across demographic profiles. Papers were excluded if they were not available in English, or if they did not contribute to identifying consistencies in clinical presentation when a pregnancy is denied. There are clear repetitive markers that occur across studies which pertain not only to the frequent absence of certain expected indicators of pregnancy, (i.e. no morning sickness, weight gain, or sensations of fetal movement), but also the misattribution of pregnancy-related symptoms, and the consistent experience of a dissociative episode while giving birth that can unintentionally result in neonaticide. This paper concludes that dissociation is a consistently seen symptom in pervasive pregnancy denial. Dissociation, in addition to other commonly seen symptoms across cases, suggests specific diagnostic criteria that lend themselves to inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Keywords: Childhood trauma; Concealed pregnancy; Dissociative disorder; Dissociative reaction; Neonaticide; Pregnancy concealment; Pregnancy denial.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Denial, Psychological*
  • Dissociative Disorders / diagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infanticide*
  • Male
  • Mothers
  • Parturition
  • Pregnancy