A post-mortem (also called an autopsy) is a medical examination to help understand the medical reason for why your baby died. A healthcare professional who knows about the post-mortem process will talk with you about your options of having a post-mortem and can answer any questions you have. They will explain the different types of post-mortems and ask you to decide what level of post-mortem you are comfortable consenting to for your baby.
If you consent to a post-mortem, the perinatal pathologist (the doctor who performs the post-mortem) will assess what level of post-mortem will give the most helpful information for understanding what may have caused your baby’s death. The pathologist will only carry out a post-mortem to the level you have consented to. But they may judge that a lower level of post-mortem gives the maximum amount of information, and stop at that level. This means that even if you consented for your baby to receive a full post-mortem, this might not happen.
This approach has changed slightly from the system before October 2022, when the NHS introduced a new policy based on research evidence which shows for many babies, a lower level of post-mortem gives as much information as a full post-mortem.
There is only one type of post-mortem examination which can be carried out without your consent and this is one ordered by a coroner (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or a procurator fiscal (Scotland). You will be informed if your baby’s post-mortem has been ordered by a coroner or procurator fiscal.
You might also find our booklet, 'Understanding why your baby died' helpful. To access it, please click on the image below.