Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome

As a parent, you hate when your child is sick, That little person helpless and dependant entirely on you needs extra love and care when they are unwell. There is nothing worse than the heartache of a severely or chronically ill child, or even just an infant with their first cold or a teenager with a fever. Not to mention the stress on everyone else in the house as short term illness and bugs can affect everyone through cross-infection and lack of sleep, and long-term illness affecting financial obligations and relationships amongst family members. So why on earth would anyone caring for a child intentionally make them sick?

Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome (MBPS) is (thankfully) a relatively rare form of child abuse. It occurs when the parent or carer of a child intentionally fabricates and exaggerates illness symptoms, usually making the child quite sick in the process. “By proxy” means that a parent or other adult is making up and exasperating symptoms in a child, not in himself or herself. Symptoms are usually created, then aggravated and symptoms over-exaggerated to family members, friends and medical staff. It is not to be confused with Munchausen Syndrome, in which the sufferer themselves find the uncontrollable urge to assume to role of a ‘sick’ person; falsifying tests and self-inflicting illness.

MBPS is a mental illness where the adult abuses their position of authority and trust to make others believe the child in their care is sick. Every time you go to the doctor, depending on the age of your child, the adults will usually speak, the parent speaking for the child, right? People suffering from MBPS take advantage of this practise to mislead the doctor/nurse/medical professional into believing their child is unwell.

In 85% of Munchausen cases, it is the mother of the child who is responsible for causing the symptoms. Most MBPS cases are initiated by someone who has a brief medical background or has done extensive research into how to induce injury or illness to the child. It is not prevalent in either boys or girls, and in most reported cases, the children are pre-school aged.

Usually the cause of MBPS is a need for attention and sympathy by the perpetrator, however research suggests that Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome sufferers also derive pleasure from betraying and deceiving those in a profession we traditionally regard as being superior. The parent’s or caregiver’s own personal needs overcome their ability to see the child as a person with feelings and rights and an alarming amount of reported perpetrators were abused as children; with many seeing sickness as a way to get attention and love.

Signs Of Munchausen By Proxy SyndromeMunchausen by Proxy Syndrome

MBPS is so difficult to diagnose, as many of the signs are that of normally ill children and overly concerned parents. But combined, they can indicate an issue that may need to be addressed. These include:

  • A child with multiple medical issues that don’t seem to respond to treatment
  • Results from labs, blood tests and screening that are clinically impossible or highly abnormal
  • Short term symptoms that tend to stop or diminish when the child is not with the perpetrator
  • Parents or caregivers who ‘doctor shop’
  • Parents or caregivers that are not relieved by ‘good news’ when tests come back normal
  • A parent or caregiver who is highly knowledgeable of hospitals, medical details, procedures and seems to be enjoying the attention of being in hospital
  • A parent or caregiver who is overly supportive and encouraging of the doctor or, conversely, angry and defensive and demanding.

According to experts, common conditions and symptoms that are created or fabricated by parents or caregivers with MBPS can include failure to thrive, allergies, asthma, vomiting, diarrhoea, seizures, and infections.

What Happens if a MBPS Diagnosis Is Made?

Once doctors suspect MPBS, they will usually remove the suspected perpetrator from the vicinity of the child. In all confirmed cases, when the parent or caregiver causing the illness or impairment is absent, symptoms disappear or at least improve dramatically quite quickly. Authorities are then usually called and steps are taken to ensure the child’s safety and to treat the MPBS sufferer effectively.

The child’s long term prognosis really depends on the extent of the damage done. The amount of time the abuse has been going on and the level of intensity of symptoms can result in permanent damage, but most children recover quite quickly without lasting complications. Extreme cases, however, have been reported of intellectual disability, internal organ failure, bone deformation and blindness caused by MPBS. The psychological damage is usually more significant, with values such as trust and feeling safe being shattered by the person who is supposed to care the most about you, slowly causing you pain and suffering for their own benefit.



If you become concerned about your or anyone else’s health please seek immediate medical attention or go to our health hotlines and website post for further resources – 

SAHM takes no responsibility for any illness, injury or death caused by misuse of this information.  All information provided is correct at time of publication. 


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