Mother Kills Her Baby – Nigeria

Keywords: Post Partum Depression, infanticide, mens rea, actus reus, McNaughton’s rule.

Mother Kills Her Baby – Nigeria. Why would a mother kill her newborn baby? What is Post Partum Depression (PPD)? Do Nigerian women suffer from PPD? Causes of PPD in Nigeria. Are there complications from PPD? When a woman suffering from PPD kills her baby, is it a crime in Nigeria? Do men suffer from PPD? Can PPD be prevented and treated?

In Africa and specifically in Nigeria, the birth of a baby is highly celebrated. In different Nigerian cultures for example, the birth of a child calls for ceremonies that last for days. And they include the naming ceremony, child dedication, etc. 

These ceremonies help keep the woman or mother in high spirit. But unfortunately, not every mother is happy after giving birth to a child and some women may kill their babies.  So what can make a mother kill her baby? Mental illness could be a cause. One mental illness that can cause this infanticide or killing of the baby is Post Partum Depression (PPD). Thus the topic mother kills her baby – Nigeria is used.

What is Post Partum Depression?

Post Partum Depression a mental illness and a major public health issue affects women who have delivered babies. The symptoms begin within usually1 month after delivery, but it can start anytime within the first 6 months of delivery.  For some women, it can start as late as 1 year. It is not easily diagnosed by many clinicians and the lay people erroneously see it a character flaw.

Many new moms do have the baby blues or post partum blues. This blues starts within 3 – 5 days of delivery and most often goes away on its own within 2 weeks. Unfortunately, not all women who develop the baby blues recover from it some develop PPD.

The symptoms of PPD:

The symptoms include depressed mood with loss of energy and loss of interest in what the woman usually enjoyed. The mood which is depressed is deeper than ordinary sadness. And the loss of energy is like sever weakness, as if blood has been drained from the woman. These are called core symptoms of depression.

Other symptoms are excessive crying, withdrawal from family and friends, whereby the woman will prefer to keep to herself. There is also loss of appetite and poor sleep. Such a woman will refuse to eat because she does not feel hungry and may not eat for days. But in some cases, the eating is excessive. The poor sleep comes as inability to fall asleep, stay asleep and wakes up many times at night. For some women with PPD, they can sleep excessively. The woman may become irritable, taking offence or becoming angry in little things. Anxiety and restlessness is also frequent.

Such a woman may also have delusions and hallucinations. The delusions can come as hopelessness and helplessness with shame and guilt that she is not a good mother. She could have suicidal thoughts and even thoughts of killing her baby. The thought of killing the baby can come from the fact that she believes that there is something wrong with the baby. She could also believe that the world is not a good place for the child and for that, the baby should die. The hallucinations come as her hearing voices of unseen persons saying degrading words about her. The voice can say to her that she will not be a good mother to her baby. It could also tell her that the baby has a deformity, when none exists, etc.

Do Nigerian women suffer from PPD?

Yes, Nigerian women do suffer from PPD and the rate is quite high. For Nigerian women who had the baby blues, 51.8% of them went on to develop PPD. In Nigeria in general, the prevalence is as high as 52.5%.

In a research done in Western part of Nigeria, the rate of PPD is between 14.6% and 23%. There is a rate of between 10.7% and 30% in Southeastern part of Nigeria. And in Northern Nigeria, the rate is between 21.8% and 44.5%.

In Nigeria there is poor knowledge about PPD among the women, up to 80%. Some people in Nigeria believe that PPD is due to weakness on the part of the woman who has just delivered. Others see it as an evil spirit possession. Then among health workers, there is poor recognition of the symptoms of PPD. For these reasons, the diagnosis of the illness is most often missed.

What are the causes and risk factors to Post Partum Depression?

Biological factors:

The genetic factors –

Just like depression genetically runs in the family, so does PPD.

Neurochemical issues –

In PPD, there are problems with neurotransmitters and other chemicals in the brain. There is a low level of serotonin, etc.

Brain structural problems –

Women, who develop PPD, do have shrunken brain areas. They also have problems with different areas of the brain connecting with each other.

High risk pregnancies and baby’s status –

Post Partum Depression is more seen in women who had cesarean sections (C/S) especially the emergency C/S. It is seen more also in women who were hospitalized during pregnancy and women who had difficult labour and delivery. It is especially high in women who had assisted delivery with forceps or vacuum.

Obesity in pregnancy is another high risk pregnancy that can predispose to PPD. It is known that obesity can predispose one to depression, and depression can predispose to obesity. It is a two way traffic. Unwanted and unexpected pregnancies are high risk pregnancies. Pregnant women with eating disorders, have body dissatisfactions during pregnancy can take junk food.

Lack of antenatal care and status of the baby after deliver are risk factors. So having a premature or a baby with any disability is a risk factor. Also having a female baby where male gender is desirable is a risk factor to PPD. These are some Nigerian factors of high risk pregnancies that can predispose to this topic of Mother kills her baby – Nigeria.

Psychological and social factors:

Having suffered from depression in the past is a risk factor for having depression post partum. Also having post partum blues is a risk factor for PPD. Other psychological and social risk factors include poor marital relationships, separation, divorce, and violence in the home.  For some couples, the transition to parenthood can lead to marital distress and crisis. Pregnant women with weak support system are at risk. These are women who do not have social support from their husbands or from their family members extended or nuclear. These are women who still do their normal house chores and also take care of their babies without help.

Women who have certain personality disorders such as obsessive compulsive personality disorders are at risk of PPD. Pregnant women who live in poor urban areas are at risk, also. Having poor sleep, poor exercise, etc puts the pregnant woman at risk of PPD after delivery.

Stressors from any source during and after delivery can predispose the woman to PPD. Even having low self esteem is a risk factor or being a single mother is a predisposing factor. And having poor relationship between the woman and her mother is also a risk factor.

Cognitive and Economic factors:

A low educational level in women is a risk factor for PPD. Post Partum Depression is also higher in women who are poor and unemployed.

Complications of post partum depression.

Complications to the woman.

The complications associated with PPD include inability to care for her baby. There will be problems in breast feeding the baby, touching, talking to the baby and having less affection to the baby. Such women interact less in other ways with the baby.

This woman will become irritable and more likely to quarrel easily. And she can become dependent of substances such as alcohol.

Suicide and infanticide are very high possibilities. She might want to kill her baby because she may see the baby as deformed in any way. Or she may decide to kill the baby because she sees the baby as being in an unsafe world.

Complications on the baby:

Due to the fact that PPD leads to problems with infant-maternal bonding, the baby will be negatively affected. So the child will end up seeing the mother as not being trustworthy and sees himself/herself as unworthy. This means that the baby will develop insecure attachment.

The baby may also develop low tolerance to frustration and may have noncompliant behaviours. And the child will find it difficult to be comforted. So the baby cries a lot. There will also be problems with building good peer relationships.

The baby runs the risk of being killed by its mother. Most often it is done to protect the baby. Thus in this case, when mother kills her baby in Nigeria, there is need to check the mental status.

Is infanticide a crime in Nigeria

In the real sense of the word, when one intentionally kills any one, it is called murder in Nigeria and globally. The legal definition of murder is the unlawful killing of a human being by another human being without justification or excuse. Yes infanticide in Nigeria may or may not be a criminal act, depending on the person’s mental health.

Insanity defenses:

For the killing to be a crime, there must be mens rea and actus reus. Mens rea is the intent or intension. And in the case of killing someone, mens rea is the intension to kill. Actus reus is the act itself, and in this case it is the act of killing. Mens rea determines the person’s state of mind or mental state at the time of the offense. It is the most important element to prove that a crime has taken place. That guilty intent must be at the time of committing the offence.

Also in criminal cases the mental state of the defendant is taken into consideration. And the McNaughton rule comes into place. Under this rule, a criminal defendant is not guilty due to insanity or mental illness. This is only valid if at the time of the alleged criminal act she is not aware of what she was doing. And even if she knew what she was doing, she did not know that it was wrong.  

In Nigeria:

In Nigerian law, the accused at the time of the offence must have a mental disease. So that the disease makes it not possible for the accused to know that what he/she is doing is wrong. Thus when a woman with PPD kills her baby because she wants to save the baby from suffering, it is not a crime. Meaning that if this mother kills her baby in Nigeria, she is not guilty of a crime. It is not a crime because there was no mens rea. And with the McNaughton rule, she didn’t know that what she was doing was wrong. This means that she did not know right from wrong at the time of committing the offense. The time of committing the offense is very important.

Can men suffer from PPD?                                                                 

Yes, some men can also suffer from PPD. It can start within 3 days to 1 year after their wives give birth. In Nigeria, the rate of fathers having PPD after their wives give birth is between 1.2% ad 25.5%. Post Partum Depression in men occurs mainly when their wives have PPD, or they had depression in the past.

Prevention of post partum depression.

Social support:

A good relationship between the woman and her mother can help to prevent PPD. This is because the mother can help the woman or daughter transit motherhood and assume a maternal role. This means that social support to the woman from her mother is a preventive measure. This is called the Omugwo period in Igbo language or Olojojo omo in Yoruba. During this period which lasts for 3 to 6 months, the mother and her daughter live in the same house. The mother spends the time helping her daughter in chores and care giving. Also social support from other members of her family, her husband and friends can help. In Africa, communal living enables this form of social support. It helps relieve the woman from the challenges of pregnancy and delivery. Employing a house help will also do the job.

Self help tips:

Educate yourself and learn all you need to know about PPD. This will help you recognize it when it occurs so as to get treatment early.

Exercise when possible, it has an antidepressant effect. This exercise can be done indoors for about 10 minutes or 15 minutes walk outside daily.

Maintain a good diet. So there is need to eat nutritious foods, for example adding fruits and vegetables to the meals. Having a good intake of fish oil from Omega3 fatty acids from sea foods cod liver oil, eggs, milk etc. Other helpful supplements include vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, etc. Iron can also be gotten from red meat, liver, green leafy veggies, etc. Vitamin B12 comes from fish, liver, beef, and cereals. Vitamin D can be obtained from fish, liver milk products, eggs and oranges.

Get enough sleep and have time to yourself. It is important to sleep when baby is sleeping, including during the day. Get a care giver when you want time for yourself, which can be for 1 to 2 hours in a day. You can make use of these personal times to socialize and visit places of interest. During the period of absence, you can use a breast pump to express the milk the baby will take.

Do not to make important life changes at this time, like changing a job or moving to a new place. Keep life as simple as possible after giving birth.


This requires the consulting a psychiatrist for admission and medication.        

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