New Laws for Stillbirths in Singapore

Pregnant woman holding ultrasound to baby bump

The Stillbirths and Births (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill was passed in Parliament in early January 2024 and will introduce a number of amendments to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act (RBDA).

These amendments are significant because they aim to give more support to families affected by stillbirths and to make sure that birth registrations are done correctly and quickly.

This article will explain the following: 

Changes to the Definition of a Stillborn Child

One important part of the Bill is the amendment to the definition of a stillborn child under the RBDA, which governs when and how births and deaths must be officially recorded. 

When the RBDA was first passed in 1937, the limit for stillbirths was set at 28 weeks of pregnancy. In 2021, this law was changed, and the limit was lowered to 22 weeks to align with the World Health Organization’s guidelines. However, local medical studies have shown that 24 weeks is a more accurate limit for when a baby can survive if born prematurely.

The current 22-week limit could be confusing for parents and might lead to them making tough decisions about their unborn child’s medical care. Further, under the Termination of Pregnancy Act, an abortion cannot be carried out if the foetus is more than 24 weeks old. 

In line with these, the Bill amends the definition of a stillborn child to after 24 weeks of pregnancy, up from the previous threshold of 22 weeks. 

Registration of Stillbirths

Another important part of the Bill is recognising stillbirths as significant events for parents. Presently, if a stillbirth happens after 24 weeks of pregnancy in Singapore, it is not officially registered as a birth or a death. 

The new law will change this by making it necessary for hospitals to notify the Registrar of Births and Deaths about stillbirths that occur after 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

A medical doctor will need to certify the stillbirth online and it will be automatically registered. There is no need for the parents to register a stillbirth at a registration counter.

Naming of Stillborn Children

The Bill suggests giving a certificate for stillbirths after 24 weeks of pregnancy. This certificate would officially recognise the stillbirth and allow parents to name their stillborn child. Stillbirths are similar to the loss of any child, which can be a painful experience for parents, and the official naming of a stillborn child may help some bereaved parents.

There will be a facility for parents to apply to the Registrar-General to register a name for the child, within 1 year after the stillbirth. The digital stillbirth certificate for the child, which can be downloaded from the My Legacy website, will reflect the child’s registered name. However, these changes will need some time to be reflected in the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority’s (ICA) systems, which could take around 2 years. 

In the meantime, parents who wish to name their stillborn children can apply for a special birth certificate – also known as a commemorative birth certificate – for remembrance purposes. 

The Stillbirths and Births (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill is an important step in helping families affected by stillbirths and addressing any confusion over the viability of a foetus by raising the definition of a stillborn child to after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you may find some helpful resources here.