An Introduction to Surrogacy in the UK

What is surrogacy?

A surrogacy arrangement is one where one woman (the surrogate mother) agrees to bear a child for a couple (the Intended Parents) and surrenders it at birth. It is carried out to enable those who are unable to carry a child themselves to become a parent.

Who can become a parent through surrogacy?

To become a parent through a surrogacy arrangement you must be in a stable long-term relationship, both of you must be over the age of 18 and one of you must be biologically related to the child that is born.

Surrogacy is suitable for couples where the woman is unable to carry a pregnancy to term or if she suffers from a medical condition that would make pregnancy a serious risk to her health. Because it involves another person taking on the risks of pregnancy, it should only be considered where it is impossible or very dangerous for the intended mother to carry a child herself or where all other options for having a baby have been exhausted.

What Kinds of Surrogacy are there?

  • Straight (or Traditional) Surrogacy is where the egg of the surrogate mother and the sperm of the Intended Father are used to create the embryo through the process of artificial insemination. This may be carried out at a fertility clinic but is more often carried out at home.  The baby is biologically related to the Intended Father and the surrogate mother. It is simpler and less complicated process of conception, but emotionally and psychologically it can be the hardest for both the Surrogate Mother (who will be giving up her own biological child) and the Intended Mother (who will be accepting a child which her partner has fathered with another woman).


  • Host (or Gestational) Surrogacy is where the egg of the Intended Mother (or a donor egg) is combined with the sperm of her partner (or donor sperm) through the process of IVF.  It is usually a requirement that the sperm be frozen for 6 months prior to the IVF process (this is called the quarantine period). The baby has no biological connection to the surrogate mother and (with the exception of donor egg/sperm) is the genetic child of both Intended Parents. It is a much more difficult way of achieving a pregnancy (both in terms of success rates and time/energy involved) but often feels more comfortable to those involved because there are no biological ties between the surrogate mother and the baby she will be carrying.

What are the criteria for becoming a surrogate mother?

A potential surrogate mother should be in good overall health and be able to carry a pregnancy without putting her own health at undue risk. She should not suffer from medical conditions that could lead to pregnancy complications. Neither should she be a drinker, a smoker or a substance abuser because of the risks this could cause to her and/or the baby. It is strongly recommended that surrogate mothers should have had at least one child previously and that they should ideally have completed their family. Ideally she should be 35 years or younger, especially if she will be donating her own egg during the surrogacy arrangement (this is known as straight surrogacy).

Being a surrogate mother is emotionally and physically demanding and she should have the backing of a partner, family or friends to provide emotional and practical help and support. All medical, emotional, legal and practical issues should be carefully considered, as should the implications of surrendering the child at birth. The potential surrogate mother should carefully consider the effect on any existing children, her partner, family and friends.

Do I need to join an organisation?

You do not have to join a surrogacy organisation but it is highly recommended. Surrogacy organisations have years of experience and knowledge and can offer on-going advice and support at all stages of the surrogacy journey. They also offer a way for intended parents and surrogates to meet and for all those involved in surrogacy to help and support each other.

There are two main surrogacy organisations in the UK – COTS and Surrogacy UK: (COTS) (Surrogacy UK)

Surrogacy UK’s ethos is “friendship through surrogacy” and believe that intended parents and surrogates should form a close bond to possibly continue throughout the child’s life. They arrange regular social events for surrogates and their families, Intended Parents and parents with children born through surrogacy, with the aim of meeting up to chat, share information and obtain mutual support. They are also an opportunity for surrogates to meet potential couples that they may want to work with. Each couple looking for a surrogate can also create a profile about themselves which potential surrogates can browse and there is an online forum where members can chat and get to know each other.

COTS (which stands for ‘Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy’) works slightly differently. Surrogates are sent profiles of potential couples and choose who they would like to meet with from these.  Like Surrogacy UK, they provide support, expert advice and support workers for both parties in a surrogacy arrangement from the start and throughout the journey. Like Surrogacy UK, they also have a message forum and a website with lots of information and personal stories.

Even if you have already met your surrogate (e.g. family member or friend) there are many benefits to joining a surrogacy organisation in order to access their invaluable support and advice at all stages of the process.

Is Surrogacy Legal?

Surrogacy is not illegal in the UK but it is restricted by legal rules. It is a criminal offence to advertise for a surrogate and a surrogate may not receive any financial payment (other than reasonable expenses) in return for what she does.

Who are the legal parents of a baby born through surrogacy?

At the time of birth, the woman who has given birth to the baby is considered the legal mother, regardless of genetic links. She is responsible for registering the birth and will go on the birth certificate. Her husband (or civil partner) is considered the legal father (or ’second parent’). If the surrogate is not married or in a civil partnership then the biological father can be named on the birth certificate if he attends the birth registration.

The Intended Parents will take the baby home from the hospital and will care for it as any other new parents would. However, they must gain legal parental status through a parental order. Like an adoption order, this reassigns parenthood, removing the parental status of the surrogate parents and giving all parental rights and responsibilities to the Intended Parents.

Parental Orders are usually made when the child is about 6 months old. The surrogate mother must freely consent to making the parental order but can not do so until the child is 6 weeks old. The Intended Parents must both be over the age of 18, one must be biologically related to the child, they must be in a stable long-term relationship, at least one parent must be resident in the UK and the child must be living with them.

Does it ever go wrong?

A surrogacy arrangement is not legally binding but  is, instead, an arrangement based on trust and agreement between the surrogate mother and the Intended Parents. This is why it is so important that a decision to conceive a child is not made until both parties feel confident that they are making the right decision, that they know each other well enough and that all issues have been fully discussed and agreed. It is also why it is highly recommended that both parties make use of the advice and support of a surrogacy organisation such as COTS or Surrogacy UK.

On rare occasions, the relationship between a surrogate mother and the Intended Parents has broken down. If this happens, the surrogacy organisation will do its best to mediate to resolve the situation but it can not be guaranteed.  Surrogacy UK has never had a situation where one of their surrogate members has kept the baby, but COTS reports that it has happened in 2% of cases over the last 14 years (around a dozen cases, all where straight surrogacy was involved).

How much does it cost?

Whilst it is illegal for a surrogate to receive payment, it is perfectly acceptable (and expected) all reasonable expenses will be paid by the intended parents. This may include things like loss of earnings, maternity clothing, extra food, travel expenses and additional childcare costs. Surrogacy organisations estimate the usual level of expenses as between £7,000-£15,000 but it depends on numerous individual factors.


If doing host surrogacy, you may have to cover all the IVF costs (although in some areas part may be funded by the NHS). Your fertility consultant can apply for funding on your behalf to see if you may be entitled to help with IVF costs. Costs vary depending on the clinic but are likely to be around £5,500 for a one complete cycle.

It is also worth bearing in mind that currently mothers through surrogacy are not entitled to maternity pay. Many employers will provide some maternity/adoption pay as an act of goodwill but it is possible that a new mother through surrogacy will have to use her holiday allowance when the baby is born or take unpaid leave.

Will my cystic fibrosis be a barrier?

 There are no specific reasons why having CF should affect someone becoming a parent through surrogacy. Obviously individual surrogates are free to choose who they wish to work with and some choose not to select a couple if they have concerns about the mother’s life expectancy, but likewise they may select on other criteria altogether.  CF is something that should be openly discussed (along with all other issues) before a decision is made for the surrogate to carry a child for the couple so that both parties can make an informed decision before proceeding.

If you do host (IVF) surrogacy you will have to see a counsellor at the clinic before beginning treatment, however this is standard for all surrogacy arrangements. Many women with CF undergo IVF and as long as your CF team support you it shouldn’t be a problem.


©Emma Harris

With thanks to Sarah Robinson and Gemma Gleave for their help with information


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