Coffin birth (first defined by the German term sarg geburt ) is the phrase used by coroners to explain the medical phenomenon when a pregnant woman spontaneously delivers her child after her own untimely death. The spontaneous birth happens when naturally expanding gases, built up in the abdominal and pelvic areas of a decomposing (pregnant) corpse, place sufficient pressure on the mother's uterus to force an unborn baby through the birth passageway and out the vagina. Coffin births have occurred throughout human history, with paleopathologic scientists discovering instances of coffin birth in ancient countries of what is now called the continent of Europe. However, with modern embalming techniques, the occurrence of coffin birth is very rare. On the other hand, coffin births still happen when (for example) accidental deaths and murders occur or in the unlikely situation where incorrect embalming procedures are performed. (As of the beginning of the twenty-first century, the term coffin birth has rarely appeared in medical literature for about twenty-five years due to its infrequency of occurrence.)
In April 2003 the chief medical examiner of San Francisco, California, along with other forensic investigators, initially stated that coffin birth was a possible reason as to why the decomposed bodies of an adult (pregnant) woman and an infant boy washed ashore separately (about a mile apart near Point Isabel Regional Shoreline) south of the city of Richmond, which is located northeast of San Francisco Bay. The media promoted such a theory during the coverage of the incident, but most scientists agreed at the time that coffin birth was only a possibility, one of many possible reasons why the pair was discovered apart. Forensic experts state that a coffin birth, sometimes called a postmortem birth, could take weeks or months to happen, depending on external factors such as outside temperature. It was later learned that the female corpse, Laci Peterson, was about seven and one half months pregnant and due to deliver a baby boy, Conner, on or about February 10, 2003, when she apparently disappeared from her Modesto, California, home on Christmas Eve 2002. Her husband, Scott, was convicted in March 2005 and sentenced to death for the murders of both his wife and unborn son.
see also Decomposition.