Munchausen by internet and false perinatal crises

BACKGROUND: In representative cases of Munchausen by internet (MBI), an individual (or “poser”) goes online to falsely report or exaggerate illnesses or life crises. The principal goal, as in factitious disorder imposed on self or another, is to garner emotional satisfaction. We provide the first evidence that MBI can target a specific type of health care provider—in this case, birthing doulas.

METHODS: We describe 5 cases in which individuals have utilized social media platforms to report factitious perinatal illnesses and crises, including neonatal death, in real time. Current health headlines, such as those involving the COVID-19 pandemic, can be relevant to the ruses. Posers can engage in deceptions with several health care professionals concurrently or serially, and may portray multiple people (“sock puppets”) at the same time.

RESULTS: MBI has consequences that can be highly disruptive. In the cases highlighted in this report, many hours of support were given to individuals who had fabricated their pregnancies, infants, and perinatal complications. The doulas experienced feelings ranging from resignation to anger and betrayal.

CONCLUSIONS: Health care professionals of all types who offer services online should be vigilant to the risks of potential MBI.

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