If you or a loved one has experienced a miscarriage or is expecting one, first off, we are so sorry.
When you’re coping with a miscarriage, the last thing you want to think about is the logistics of what you do – or don’t need to do. We’re here to help clear up any confusion you may have on what’s included on a death certificate for a miscarriage, why you might need one, and when it’s not necessary.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What’s Included on a Death Certificate for a Miscarriage or Stillbirth?
- Why Would You Need a Death Certificate for Miscarriage or Stillbirth?
- When Do You Get a Death Certificate After a Miscarriage or Stillbirth?
- When Would You Not Get a Death Certificate After a Miscarriage or Stillbirth?
A death certificate is an official government document that gives details about someone’s death and other personal information. Because of the nature of pregnancy loss, it can be confusing to know what to do about a miscarriage death certificate.
Let’s demystify that confusion.
What’s Included on a Death Certificate for a Miscarriage or Stillbirth?
You might be wondering what exactly is included on a stillbirth or miscarriage death certificate.
One of the first things that come to mind when you think of official certificates is someone’s name. In many cases, a parent may not want to name their infant or fetus who has passed. In most cases, this can be omitted.
Other information you might find on a miscarriage death certificate includes the parent or parent’s names, the sex of the baby, and the death certificate number. Much of the information you might find on a miscarriage death certificate is similar to a live birth certificate, like the weight of the baby and time of birth. Typically, death certificates also include the cause of death, but this might not be known or disclosed in the case of a miscarriage or stillbirth.
When disclosing the location of delivery, it may include the hospital or center where the loss occurred, or just the city and state.
As parents, you may need to give necessary information in order for a licensed professional to be able to fill out the death certificate so that it is considered valid.
Why Would You Need a Death Certificate for Miscarriage or Stillbirth?
Laws around obtaining death certificates for a pregnancy loss vary greatly from state to state and change regularly. You can see current examples of this in states like Pennsylvania, where a rider on the H.B. 118 bill attempted to mandate death certificates for all abortions and pregnancy loss, regardless of the length of gestation.
Much like with other deaths, a miscarriage death certificate is created for the sake of public health records. This is a legal document that carries important administrative and epidemiologic information. Death certificates are created so government and healthcare officials can track data around the why's, when’s, where’s, and how’s of deaths, which sometimes extends to miscarriages and stillbirth.
If you’re wondering how to get a death certificate, you can obtain the necessary forms to file a death certificate from the State's department of vital records.
When Do You Get a Death Certificate After a Miscarriage or Stillbirth?
Whether or not a death certificate is required depends on where you live. Some states create mandates based on the length of gestation, others use the weight of the fetus, and a few use both metrics.
We outline some of these requirements below. For a full list of each state’s requirements, you can check out the CDC’s page on state definitions and reporting requirements for fetal deaths.
Generally, states require you to report within five days of birth in order to file for a death certificate. This may vary by state to state, so you can check with your healthcare provider and state website.
In some states, you may be able to request a certificate of stillbirth in addition to a fetal death certificate.
Weight and Gestation
For example, in states like Arizona, Montana, and Wisconsin, a death certificate is mandatory if the birth weight of the fetus is 350 grams or more, or if they are more than twenty weeks gestation. In Michigan, it’s 400 grams or twenty weeks gestation, and in Washington D.C., it’s twenty weeks gestation and 500 grams or more.
The Weight of the Fetus
A handful of states base their death certificate requirements solely on the weight of the fetus. These states include Kansas (350 grams) as well as New Mexico, South Dakota, and Tennessee – all 500 grams.
The Length of Gestation
Length of gestation, or the length of the pregnancy, is a common metric used for defining miscarriages and stillbirth. Gestation length is used by some states as the sole deciding factor on whether or not someone needs to file for a miscarriage death certficate.
States like California, Washington, Maine, and Nevada are just based on length of gestation, typically twenty weeks.
The area with the loosest requirements on miscarriage death certificates is Puerto Rico, where it is only mandatory after five months gestation.
States Where a Death Certificate Is Always Required
There are some states where a death certificate is required for “All products of human conception.”
Here are a few of those states:
- New York State
- Rhode Island
Induced Termination of Pregnancy
It’s also important to point out that in some states, people are requried to obtain a death certificate after having an abortion, or “induced termination of pregnancy – ITOP” according to the CDC.
These are statistical reports that are not necessarily incorporated into the official vital records files.
Here are a few of the states that have a mandatory reporting system for ITOP:
- New Mexico
States with a voluntary reporting system include Alaska, Washington D.C., Maryland, and New Hampshire.
California, Iowa, and other U.S. territories have no reporting system for ITOP.
When Would You Not Get a Death Certificate After a Miscarriage or Stillbirth?
Again, each state and U.S. territory has different definitions for live birth, fetal death, and induced termination of pregnancy.
These definitions help determine when someone might not need to get a death certificate after experiencing a miscarriage or stillbirth.
You are under a certain length of gestation
For states that base miscarriage death certificate requirements on length of gestation, you may not need to file for one if you don’t meet the requirements.
Length of gestation isn’t always totally clear because some providers determine differently, or people don’t know the exact time of conception or their last menstrual cycle. In these cases, it may be up to the individual whether or not they wish to proceed with filing for a fetal death certificate.
The fetus is under a specific weight
The same is true for states that use weight specific requirements. If your fetus is under a certain weight, you may not be required to file for a death certificate.
This is typically only determined if you miscarry at the hospital or collect the remains to take to your provider for examination.
You miscarry at home
Many people miscarry or experience stillbirth at home. This is oftentimes because it is fast and unexpected, or because they want to be in the comfort of their own space.
In these cases, you might not know the weight of the baby or have the exact gestation time. Depending on what you do with the remains, it may be up to you whether or not you report a miscarriage. For personal reasons, some people choose to miscarry at home and forgo reporting altogether.
Things to Remember: Miscarriage Death Certificates
Whether or not you obtain a death certificate for your miscarriage or stillbirth does not make your loss any less valid.
It’s also totally okay to not want to obtain a death certificate if you don’t have to. We’ve seen pushes in legislation for mandated death certificates after pregnancy loss and opposition from people who have experienced it – with good reason.
Filing for a death certificate and dealing with legal documents is the last thing someone wants to do when they're in the midst of grieving and healing emotionally and physically. This process can be triggering and exhausting and should be balanced with self-care and community support.
If you just gave birth and need to file for a miscarriage death certificate, try to delegate it to your partner or anyone else who can help to try and relieve some of the burden so that you can focus on yourself.
Some people find comfort in the process of obtaining a miscarriage death certificate because it feels like a legal recognition that their baby existed.
No matter when you miscarried or the circumstances of your pregnancy loss, your grief is real for you to experience, move through, and heal from.
We hope that this cleared up some of the confusion you may be experiencing and that you continue to care for yourself and your healing by doing things like taking bereavement leave for a miscarriage.
- “Bill Information: Regular Session 2021-2022, House Bill 118.” Pennsylvania General Assembly, Pennsylvania State, 11 June 2021, legis.state.pa.us
- “State Definitions and Reporting Requirements: For Live Births, Fetal Deaths, and Included Termination of Pregnancy.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 1997. cdc.gov