What is Coffin birth?
Alan Greene MD FAAP
April 21, 2003
It has been a quarter century since the term ‘coffin birth’ or ‘sarg geburt’ appeared in the medical literature.
This old phrase was used to describe an unusual grim parody of one of life’s greatest moments. It happens
when a pregnant woman spontaneously delivers her child after her own death. The gas that builds up in her decomposing body can build up enough pressure to propel the baby through the birth canal. This odd
occurrence has taken place throughout history, albeit rarely. Scientists have even found paleopathologic
evidence of a case of coffin birth in Europe of the dim past, before recorded history. Today, modern
embalming customs have made coffin birth so rare as to longer be described in typical medical textbooks.
Coffin birth made news headlines again in 2003 when the body of an infant boy (Conner) washed ashore
in the San Francisco Bay, followed by the body of an adult woman (Laci).. Perhaps there was not enough
of the woman’s body intact to hold the baby inside. Alternatively, the chief medical examiner of San
Francisco offered coffin birth as one explanation of how the baby could have become separated from
his pregnant dead mother. This would have been a tragic, un-witnessed drama in the cold, silent,
lonely depths of the Bay – a sharp contrast to the joy and celebration a birth should bring.
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