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Encephale. 2013 Oct;39(5):352-9. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2012.10.003. Epub 2012 Dec 14.

[The profile of neonaticide mothers in legal expertise].

[Article in French]

Author information

  • 1CERMES 3, (CNRS UMR 8211, EHESS, Inserm U988, université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne Paris-Cité), 45, rue des Saints-Pères, 75270 Paris cedex 06, France. Electronic address:



Neonaticide is the term used to refer to the killing of newborn infants within the first 24 hours of life. A recent study conducted by Inserm Unit 750 found a frequency of 2.1 cases of neonaticide for 100,000 births in France. The persistence of these crimes raises serious issues, and scientists have attempted to explain this by the profile of neonaticidal mothers: young, or even teenage, single, primiparous, and socially deprived. The present study sought to question this profile, and to suggest a new profile for neonaticidal mothers.


This retrospective study over the years 1996-2000 comprised 32 cases of neonaticide perpetrated in three French regions. Seventeen solved cases of these 32 cases generated 54 documents by expert consultants, mainly psychiatric and psychological expertise, studied and analysed here using Modalisa software for quantitative analyses and Nvivo software for qualitative data.


No single socio-demographic profile was observed. The mothers were in contrasting situations at the time of the event. There were few psychotic profiles. The other psychopathological disturbances detected were very often related to the event. The most surprising feature in the expert reports describing the neonaticidal mothers was the existence of what we have termed "descriptive absent-factors". These mothers had not experienced major trauma in childhood such as the death of persons close or foster care. They were not living in an environment of family violence. They did not exhibit addictive or self-harm behaviour. Their parents before them had similar profiles, except three cases of alcoholism. Their parentage, and that of the infants, was not an issue. The most widely described personality features were immaturity, dependency on others, withdrawal, inhibition, emptiness, lack of affectivity, non-expressiveness, and devaluation of self-image. The very impoverished relational environment of these mothers also appears in the expertise data. Their affective and relational foundations were insecure.


The "classic" profile of the neonaticidal mother as being young, single, and primiparous is not confirmed in this study. Recent American and European studies reach similar conclusions. More than half of these mothers already had other children; more than half were living with a partner. Nor did these mothers have an evident psychopathological profile, and even less so a psychopathic profile. This study suggests a "psycho-relational" profile for the neonaticidal mother: immature, affectively dependent, expressing herself very little, and experiencing considerable affective isolation.


These neonaticidal mothers did not present any specific socio-demographic or evident psychopathological profile. The study nevertheless enabled definition of a "psycho-relational" profile.

Copyright © 2012 L’Encéphale, Paris. Published by Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.


Expertise psychiatrique; Forensic psychiatry; Infanticide; Intergenerational relations; Maternal behaviour; Néonaticide; Personality; Profil des mères; Relations intergénérationnelles et familiales

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