Parents who lose a baby before 24 weeks of pregnancy can today apply for a certificate to have their grief formally recognised for the first time. 

The scheme will be voluntary and ministers say it will remain the choice of all parents to manage their bereavement ‘however they see fit’.

Babies born before 24 weeks do not need to be officially registered, leaving some mums and dads feeling ignored.

The new certificates can be requested online for free from 9am and will be available to either parent who has suffered a loss in early pregnancy since September 2018.

They will be official but not legal documents.

The Government will issue voluntary baby loss certificates to support parents who have experienced a loss of pregnancy before 24 weeks

The Government will issue voluntary baby loss certificates to support parents who have experienced a loss of pregnancy before 24 weeks

Ministers are considering plans to extend the eligibility criteria for a certificate and whether bereaved parents should receive statutory leave from work.

The certificate idea was formed as part of the Government’s response to the independent Pregnancy Loss Review.

The government says it is ‘committed to ensuring bereaved parents feel supported through their grief and recognise their loss, acknowledging their pain and ensuring they feel heard’.

On a visit to a family bereavement centre at a maternity unit, Maria Caulfield, Minister for the Women’s Health Strategy, said parents who lose a baby before 24 weeks can feel there is a ‘lack of recognition of that baby’.

Speaking at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south-west London, she said: ‘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.’

The minister was shown around the unit’s specialist bereavement suite, which offers a comforting and private setting for families dealing with the emotional and physical challenges of perinatal loss.

The suite at St George’s was refurbished in October after the family of a baby who passed away after birth raised more than £80,000 towards its renovation.

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.’

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.’

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.’

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.’

The new scheme is being launched today in England only, although people in Scotland can already apply to have their loss recorded in the Memorial Book of Pregnancy and Baby Loss Prior to 24 weeks, and receive a certificate of inclusion in the book.

Ruth Bender Atik, national director of the Miscarriage Association, said: ‘For many, if not most people, even the earliest of losses can be deeply distressing, both emotionally and physically.

‘It means the loss not only of this pregnancy but also of the hopes, plans and dreams that they had for this new life.

‘And having no formal acknowledgement or marker of their loss can compound their grief.

‘The new certification scheme will make a genuinely positive difference to many who have experienced pregnancy or baby loss, offering formal recognition of the tiniest of lives.’

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