House of Commons Library

Registration of stillbirth

Published Monday, August 12, 2019

This Commons Library briefing paper deals with the registration of stillbirth and with calls for the law to be changed

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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 dead) 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. The charity Sands (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity) provides forms of certificate that healthcare staff may use or adapt in these circumstances.

Calls for change

For some time, calls have been made, both inside and outside of Parliament, for the law to be changed to enable registration of stillbirth before 24 weeks of pregnancy. 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’s stated position has been that it did 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 “make arrangements for the preparation of a report on whether, and if so how, the law ought to be changed to require or permit the registration of pregnancy losses which cannot be registered as still-births 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 is 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.

In May 2019, in answer to a written Parliamentary question, the Government indicated that “the Department expects to publish the Review report by the end of the year”.

Commons Briefing papers SN05595

Author: Catherine Fairbairn

Topic: Registration of births, deaths and marriages

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