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This briefing paper deals with the position in England and Wales unless otherwise stated.

Registration of birth and subsequent death of baby born alive

The birth of a baby who is born alive must be registered, whatever the length of the completed pregnancy. The death of a baby born alive must be registered in the same way as any other death.

Registration of stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy

When a baby is stillborn (born without signs of life) after 24 weeks of pregnancy, the stillbirth must be registered in the stillbirth register. The process for registering a stillbirth combines features of both birth and death registration.

Stillbirth before 24th week of pregnancy

There is no provision to allow the registration of stillbirths before the 24th week of pregnancy. Hospitals may issue a commemorative certificate when the stillbirth cannot be registered formally.

Calls for change

Calls have been made for some time, both inside and outside of Parliament, for the law to be changed. Tim Loughton (Conservative) has spoken of the arbitrary nature of the 24-week threshold. He highlighted one case where twins had been stillborn either side of the threshold and were treated differently for registration purposes.

The Government has said it does not plan to change the definition of stillbirth, which is based on clinical evidence and the age of viability.

Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019

Section 3 of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019 requires the Secretary of State to arrange a report on whether, and, if so, how, the law should be changed to deal with the registration of pregnancy losses which cannot be registered as stillbirths under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953. The Secretary of State must publish the report prepared under this section. 

This Act started as a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Tim Loughton. 

The Pregnancy Loss Review

In March 2018, the Department of Health and Social Care established the Pregnancy Loss Review.  The purpose of the Review was to consider:

  • the impact on families of the current threshold of 24 weeks gestation before being able, formally, to register a miscarriage if they so wish.
  • whether it would, on balance, be beneficial to look at legislative options to amend existing primary legislation to allow parents to register a miscarriage if they so wish.
  • options to improve NHS gynaecology and maternity care practice for parents who experience a miscarriage and other causes of baby loss.

The Pregnancy Loss Review reported in July 2023. Having consulted with parents, baby loss and bereavement charities and healthcare professionals, the Review recommended a scheme of certification for baby loss before 24 weeks of gestation. Certificates would be issued by Government and be available for those parents who would like one, regardless of the type of loss they have experienced. Certificates would also be capable of being backdated to acknowledge the loss of a baby retrospectively.

In its response to the report, the Government said the certification scheme would be tested with 1,000 bereaved families – subject to which certificates could be launched during International Baby Loss Awareness Week 2023.

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