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Dropped baby's death focuses attention on causes of infanticide [Updated]

August 25, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • A construction worker walks past a Children's Hospital of Orange County mural on the morning after a baby was fatally injured after being dropped from a parking structure.
A construction worker walks past a Children's Hospital of Orange… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

The woman whose baby died Wednesday after s

he threw him from a four-story parking garage was depressed and "didn't know what she was doing," her husband has said. According to mental health experts, the period after pregnancy produces the highest lifetime risk of mental illness in women.

Sonia Hermosillo has been charged with murder, accused of throwing her 7-month-old son, Noe Medina Jr., from a parking structure in Orange on Monday. The child died of his injuries Wednesday at UC Irvine Medical Center. Hemosillo's husband, Noe Medina Sr., said she had been depressed since the baby's birth. Prosecutors, however, have said they believe Hermosillo knew what she was doing.

While the "baby blues" effect up to 80% of all mothers, about 12% to 16% of new mothers experience postpartum depression, which often requires treatment with medication and therapy. The cause of the illness is unknown, but researchers suspect that a rapid fluctuation in hormones following childbirth plays a role.

A more severe form of postpartum depression, called postpartum psychosis, occurs in about 1 in 1,000 women after childbirth, according to a 2008 article in Psychology Today coauthored by Dr. Mark I. Levy, a forensic psychiatrist in Mill Valley, Calif. These women often have delusions and hallucinations and lose their grip on reality.

Among this small group, an estimated 4% kill their babies, the article states.

In Britain, new mothers who kill their infants are placed on probation and undergo mandatory psychiatric treatment. However, infanticide cases in the United States are typically decided in the courts, said Dr. Margaret G. Spinelli, in a 2004 overview of infanticide in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

"The perilous nature of postpartum psychosis has been repeatedly noted through the centuries," Spinelli wrote. Despite a large body of medical literature on the subject, however, not every psychotic woman is protected from herself and her actions, she said.

"As a major public health problem, postpartum psychiatric illness is predictable, identifiable, treatable and, therefore, preventable," she wrote.

[For the record, 9:20 a.m. Sept. 1: An earlier version of this post misspelled Dr. Spinelli's name.]

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