'Baby loss certificates' introduced for parents who lose baby before 24 weeks, as ministers consider statutory leave

22 February 2024, 06:36 | Updated: 22 February 2024, 08:34

Parents can apply for the certificate from 9am
Parents can apply for the certificate from 9am. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Kit Heren

Parents who lose their baby before 24 weeks of pregnancy can apply for a 'baby loss certificate'.

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The free, voluntary scheme is an attempt to recognise formally the extent of the loss on parents.

Babies who die after 24 weeks of pregnancy must be registered as stillborn, but there is no requirement for pregnancies that end earlier.

The new certificates will be official documents, but not legal.

The scheme opens from Thursday at 9am, and all parents in England aged 16 or over who have lost a child before 24 weeks since September 2018 are eligible. The government plans to expand the scheme.

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Health Minister Maria Caulfield outlines the government's efforts to tackle baby loss in the UK

Maria Caulfield, the minister for women's health strategy, said the scheme aimed to help bereaved parents feel recognised.

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Ms Caulfield said: "Up until now, if you lose a baby before 24 weeks, there’s no recognition.

"You don’t get a birth certificate, there’s no way to register the birth and parents find that very difficult.

"It’s as if their baby has never existed and it just adds to the pain and loss that many parents experience."

She added: "I've spoken to women in their 70s and 80s who lost babies decades ago and it was as if the pain was as real today as it was then."

It comes after Ms Caulfield spoke at a family bereavement centre at the maternity unit in St George's Hospital in Tooting, south-west London, explaining: "Getting an official certificate means a lot.

"Parents feel it's so important to see their baby's name on a certificate that they can share with family, and friends and remember that baby.

"We've had parents user-testing the system which is why it's taken a little bit longer to get up and running than we would have liked.

"It's a very difficult time for parents, even if they don't do it straight away... so we want to make it as easy as possible."

Women's health minister speaks to Nick Ferrari

Ms Caulfield was shown the unit's specialist bereavement suite, where families can start to recover from the physical and mental effects of losing a baby.

Not all hospitals have such facilities, and Ms Caulfield was told by midwives on the visit that they should be "standard" in maternity units.

The minister said: "Having a facility like this where mums are not on a maternity ward, where they have the time and space to spend with their baby before they have to leave hospital is crucial.

"Part of our pregnancy loss review is seeing how we can get that as a standard facility in all maternity units.

"There's a number of things that we can do, that will make a difference, but that is on top of trying to reduce the number of deaths from stillbirths and neonatal deaths in the first place."

Asked about calls to introduce statutory leave for bereaved parents who have lost a baby before 24 weeks, she said: "We are looking at that.

"As a department, we're leading the way in supporting employees at the Department of Health and Social Care.

"There's nothing formal at the moment, but a bit like we've done with the menopause, in encouraging employers to look after their staff, both mums and dads. It's really important.

"Many employers want to support those parents that work for them, but aren't always sure how to so it's about raising awareness and showcasing best practice that will really help parents at difficult times."

She also told Nick that she is looking at "better supporting parents at the time of bereavement".

"It’s a very difficult conversation, particularly in early pregnancy loss," she said. "Some women may not have even realised they were pregnant when they lose their baby and it’s very difficult then to go to an employer and ask for time off."

Maria Caulfield
Maria Caulfield. Picture: Alamy

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said: "Losing a baby can be a hugely traumatic event and the introduction of certificates to formally acknowledge the loss of life is a positive step towards better supporting women and parents affected.

"I'd like to thank charities and campaigners for their continuous work in bringing awareness to baby loss and making the certificates launching possible."

Reacting to the announcement of the scheme, Kath Abrahams, chief executive of Tommy's, the pregnancy research and baby loss charity, said: "This announcement will be warmly welcomed by many in our community.

"The pain of losing a baby before 24 weeks is often made even worse for bereaved parents because there is no formal recognition of their experience.

"We're pleased that baby loss certificates will now be available to provide a degree of comfort for at least some of those families."

But Ms Abrahams said miscarriage remains a "largely hidden problem" because of a lack of Government commitment to gathering statistics on the issue.

"We do believe, however, that more must be done to formally record losses before 24 weeks," she continued.

"We cannot begin to tackle the wider problem of baby loss without a Government commitment to gather and record UK-wide miscarriage statistics.

"Without data, miscarriage remains a largely hidden problem and isn't prioritised, despite the tens of thousands of families affected by it every year."

How to apply for a baby loss certificate:   

Ensure you meet eligibility criteria:   

  • You have experienced a loss under 24 weeks gestation since 1 September 2018  
  • Are at least 16 years of age  
  • Were living in England at the time of the loss 
  • Currently live in England 
  • Are one of the baby’s parents or surrogate

Visit the government website from 9am on February 22.