A stillbirth is a traumatic and often unexpected outcome of pregnancy for the parents and their family. It is important for the parents to have an opportunity to grieve their loss and arranging a funeral may assist them at this sad time.
What is a stillborn baby?
A stillborn baby is defined as one that exhibits no respiration, heartbeat or other sign of life after birth, and:
- is of at least 20 weeks gestation, or
- if the gestation period cannot be reliably established, weighs at least 400 grams.
(Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995, section 4).
Funeral of a stillborn baby
The law requires that stillborn babies be either cremated or buried. The procedures are:
- the birth must be registered by the parents in the normal way
- if the doctor requests a post-mortem, a consent form must be signed by the parent
- the doctor completes a perinatal medical certificate of cause of death
- the funeral director completes a perinatal form of information of death.
Naming the baby
If the parents wish, they can give the baby a name; otherwise, ‘Baby’ is accepted as a given name. The Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages issues birth certificates for stillborn babies.
Blessings and baptisms
Parents may want a stillborn baby to be blessed or baptised. They may also want to do this if the baby is seriously ill and certain to die. Parents will be given a baptismal certificate.
Burial or cremation
Parents can choose either a burial or cremation. Different cemeteries provide different facilities.
Documents required for cremation
The following documents are required before the cremation of a stillborn baby:
- PR315: perinatal medical certificate of cause of death (completed by the doctor)
- PR13: perinatal form of information of death (completed by the funeral director)
- form CL37 (1): application for cremation with statutory declaration by a parent requesting a cremation
- form CL41 (1): cremation permit (for a still-born child) completed by the medical referee.
Documents required for burial
The following documents are required for the burial of a stillborn baby:
- Form PR315: perinatal medical certificate of cause of death (completed by doctor)
- Form PR13: perinatal form of information of death (completed by the funeral director with the assistance of the parents).
Arranging the ceremony
Some cemeteries have special graves for stillborn babies, such as individual lawn graves. A small bronze plaque is usually provided. Parents can decide whether or not they will attend the funeral. As a guide an unattended burial costs about $1500. An unattended cremation costs about $950.
In situations where the parents or relatives cannot afford a funeral, the hospital where the baby died will arrange a destitute funeral with the government contractor. A Baby Bonus sum payment of $5437 is available through Centrelink, and is paid for each child born, including stillborn children. This will assist parents with funeral costs.
Counselling and support
Social workers are available in major public hospitals to provide emotional support and practical help to parents. Local community health centres can be also be contacted for help or for a referral to other sources of support. SIDS and Kids NSW hold regular group and individual support meetings. The organisation also provides information and gives telephone advice.
Although not legally required, some parents may want to arrange a burial or cremation for their miscarriage.
For a cremation or burial in a cemetery, parents must engage a funeral director. This will incur costs. Parents can choose to conduct a burial on private land without engaging a funeral director. However, parents must be advised to comply with regulations as set out in NSW Health PD2005_341.
This states that burial:
- must take place within eight hours of its removal from a refrigerator
- the human tissue must not be removed from its container
- the permission of the property owner must be obtained
- the burial site must not contaminate water supply – check with the local council health unit
- the minimum grave depth must be 900mm
- the family must sign a statement that they have been advised of the above conditions and will adhere to them.
The following documents are required:
- a letter from a doctor if the foetus is to be buried or cremated by a funeral director, plus cremation certificates
- copies of a tissue release form and a travel certificate (letter) stating that the person is travelling with human tissue.