Context Interest in the discarding or killing of newborns by parents has increased
due to wide news coverage and efforts by states to provide Safe Haven legislation
to combat the problem.
Objective To describe the characteristics of these cases in North Carolina.
Design, Setting, and Population Case series derived from data on all deaths among liveborn infants 0
to 4 days of age reported to the North Carolina medical examiner from 1985
Main Outcome Measures Incidence of newborns known to have been killed or discarded by a parent;
epidemiological characteristics of newborns and parents.
Results There were 34 newborns known to have been killed or discarded by a parent,
comprising 0.002% of all liveborn infants during the 16-year study period,
giving a rate of 2.1 per 100 000 per year. A total of 58.8% were male,
41.1% were white, and 52.9% were black. For 29 cases, the perpetrator was
determined to be the mother. Among mothers, 50% were single and 20.6% were
married (marital status of the remainder was unknown). Thirty-five percent
had had other children. Eight mothers (23.5%) were known to have received
some prenatal care. The mean age of the mothers was 19.1 years (range, 14-35
years) and more than half were aged 18 years or older. The most common causes
of death were asphyxiation/strangulation (41.1%) and drowning (26.5%).
Conclusions In North Carolina, at least 2.1 per 100 000 newborns are known
to be killed or left to die per year, usually by their mothers. It is unknown
how many of these deaths might be prevented by Safe Haven laws. Efforts to
educate the public about these laws need to target the general public. Where
resources are limited, the focus should be on on adolescent pregnancy prevention
programs, young adults, prenatal care clinics, and married women.