Volume V, 2006
Dr. Linda Foley
High profile cases, such as those of Susan Smith and Andrea Yates, have drawn the attention of the public and scholars to the act of filicide, the killing of a child by his/her parent. Although relatively rare, filicide has occurred throughout history. Most experts agree mental illness is frequently an underlying factor when mothers kill their children. After giving birth women are at greater risk for psychiatric illness, specifically postpartum depression. Symptoms of postpartum depression include abrupt mood swings, suicidal thoughts, and thinking about hurting their new born child (Davidson, 2000). Postpartum depression occurs in only one woman out of 200 and full-blown postpartum psychosis develops in only .2% of these women. Infanticide, the killing of a child less than one year of age, is frequently occasioned by postpartum psychosis (Meyer & Oberman, 2001).
Society perceives mothers who kill their children as unique cases different from other people accused of crimes. “Mothers who murder their children evoke sympathy, confusion, and abhorrence…Society is torn between wanting to protect the helpless child and recognizing that perhaps the very act of child murder suggests that the mother was severely ill or demented and therefore deserving of sympathetic sentencing (Manchester, 2003, p. 714).”
Cook, Kelly; Feldman, Nicole; and Martin, Rebecca, "Mothers Who Kill: Number of Victims, Sexism, and a Just World" (2006). All Volumes (2001-2008). Paper 56.