New Zealand introduced bereavement leave for miscarriages – should the UK follow suit?

Marie Claire Dorking
·6 min read

New Zealand has been praised for introducing paid bereavement leave for couples who suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth, with calls for similar legislation to be introduced in the UK.

Under a new law approved by New Zealand's parliament, mothers and their partners will be eligible for three days’ leave, with the new legislation also applying to those having a child though adoption or surrogacy.

MP Ginny Andersen, who presented the bill, said one in four women in New Zealand have had a miscarriage and she hopes the new provision would allow mothers and their partners to "come to terms with their loss" without having to use up their sick leave entitlement.

“The grief that comes with miscarriage is not a sickness; it is a loss,” she said. “That loss takes time – time to recover physically and time to recover mentally; time to recover with a partner.”

Read more: Meghan Markle praised for breaking miscarriage taboo

New Zealand has introduced paid leave for couples who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth. (Picture posed by model, Getty Images)
New Zealand has introduced paid leave for couples who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth. (Picture posed by model, Getty Images)

New Zealand is believed to be only the second country in the world to introduce a measure of this kind, after India.

Indian law stipulates women are entitled to six weeks’ leave if they miscarry a baby

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Commenting on the new bill introduced by New Zealand, Ruth Bender Atik, national director at The Miscarriage Association told Yahoo Style UK: "It’s very good to see this new legislation and perhaps especially the recognition that pregnancy or baby loss at any gestation can be a devastating experience and a bereavement like any other.

"Offering the same bereavement leave entitlement as that provided for people who experience the death of a family member is a truly positive step and will hopefully increase public understanding and awareness of the impact of miscarriage and stillbirth.

"It is noticeable too that no documentation or proof is needed to trigger this leave, but it is based on the notion of good faith."

In the UK parents who suffer the stillbirth of a child are legally entitled to paid bereavement leave, with employers obliged to give two weeks’ paid leave to anyone who loses a baby from 24 weeks of pregnancy onwards, and anyone who loses a child under the age of 18.

But there is no such legislation for couples who experience a miscarriage.

Read more: Why miscarriages occur, the mental health impact and the support available

"In the UK, two weeks’ parental bereavement leave and pay is already in place after stillbirth, Bender Atik explains.

"However, there is no such help for anyone who has experienced a miscarriage - a loss before 24 weeks of pregnancy (the UK definition).

"There are calls for this anomaly to be addressed, however, and perhaps these will increase following New Zealand’s action."

Watch: Couple who suffered five miscarriages raise thousands on TikTok to pay for IVF.

Baby charity Tommy's, which funds loss prevention research, runs clinics for high risk pregnancies and a midwife helpline for parents, believes the New Zealand legislation could potentially help in breaking down some of the stigma surrounding miscarriage.

“Losing a baby at any stage in pregnancy is one of the most devastating things any family can experience – and one that’s endured all too frequently but often quietly, due to persistent stigma in society," explains Tommy’s CEO Jane Brewin.

"Shrouding baby loss in secrecy and shame can lead to isolation for grieving parents, and this new legislation is an important step in breaking that silence so that anyone struggling feels able to reach out for help.

"Although the UK doesn’t have formal bereavement leave, maternity benefits will still apply after a stillbirth, and Tommy’s offers a ‘Pregnancy At Work’ service for employers to support parents through any pregnancy journey.”

Why miscarriages occur and common symptoms

A miscarriage is defined under UK law as losing a pregnancy in the first 23 weeks. Beyond that, a loss is considered a stillbirth.

Most miscarriages occur before a woman knows she is pregnant. Among those who are aware they are expecting, around one in eight pregnancies end in miscarriage.

Losing three or more pregnancies in a row, defined as recurrent miscarriages, affects around one in 100 women.

Many factors likely contribute to a miscarriage, however, the cause is not usually identified, but is unlikely to be linked to anything the mother has done.

"The most asked question about miscarriage is ‘why did it happen?’" says Dr Matthew Prior, fertility consultant and medical director of Dr Fertility.

"The honest answer is that we don’t know. Most miscarriages are likely due to a randomly occurring genetic problem which is not compatible with life."

Dr Prior says certain medical conditions have an increased risk of miscarriage such as thyroid disease, diabetes, and obesity.

"Female age is the strongest predictor of miscarriage and the risk increases faster for women in their forties."

A miscarriage can be a difficult experience, with many experiencing guilt, shock and anger.

“During a miscarriage, women’s physical and emotional experiences vary greatly," Dr Prior continues. "Symptoms usually include pain and bleeding; these can be distressing but often the emotional aspect of miscarriage outweighs the physical symptoms. If you have any symptoms including pain or vaginal bleeding please seek medical advice."

Some women feel compelled to keep silent about their thoughts and feelings, but strides have recently been made to open up the conversation about the topic.

New Zealand has introduced paid bereavement leave for couples who suffer a miscarriage. (Picture posed by model, Getty Images)
New Zealand has introduced paid bereavement leave for couples who suffer a miscarriage. (Picture posed by model, Getty Images)

Read more: Helplessness, loneliness and grief: How men are impacted by miscarriage

Earlier this month reality TV star, Louise Thompson, was praised for shining a light on the taboos surrounding miscarriage and baby loss.

In a poignant Instagram post, the Made In Chelsea star opened up about suffering a miscarriage earlier this year.

Though she told her followers she had not yet “processed” what had happened, she wanted to use her platform to bring awareness to the subject.

Read more: TV presenter Anita Rami says discussing miscarriages is ‘such a taboo’

Thompson isn't the only celebrity to share their experience of baby loss and miscarriage recently.

Meghan Markle was praised back in November 2020 for helping to break down the stigma surrounding miscarriage.

The Duchess of Sussex revealed she suffered a miscarriage last summer, in a deeply personal article about the loss and pain of 2020.

Chrissy Teigen has also opened up about her own experience of pregnancy loss. The model and cookery writer shared the “deep pain” she was feeling following the death of her unborn baby.

And Binky Felstead shared her heartbreak about the miscarriage she experienced when she was almost 12 weeks pregnant.

More recently, Myleene Klass revealed in an interview about the heartbreaking experience of losing her baby while hosting a radio show.

Help and support

Tommy’s provides pregnancy health information to parents.

The Miscarriage Association provides support and information to anyone affected by miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or molar pregnancy.

For information and support you can visit stillbirth and neonatal death charity, Sands UK.

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