The first few months and years of a baby's life are so special, and they don't last long. If you're still in the midst of the chaos and joy of looking after your new baby, congratulations - make the most of it!

You may be looking at the calendar and worrying that it's soon time to go back to work. The first year really does fly by, and the thought of returning to work - and leaving your little one - is a difficult one for most parents. Let's take a look at some ways you may be able to extend your time at home with your new baby.

How much maternity leave are you entitled to?

We've written before about how much maternity leave all new mothers are entitled to, which answers this question in more detail. In a nutshell, all employed women in the UK are entitled to maternity leave of up to 52 weeks and maternity pay for up to 39 weeks. If you're self-employed or on contract work, you may not be eligible for maternity leave, but other benefits include statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance, and various benefits and tax credits.

What is Additional Maternity Leave?

The first two weeks after your baby is born are called Compulsory Maternity Leave, and all mothers must take two weeks off work after childbirth by law. The following 24 weeks are called Ordinary Maternity Leave, covering the period most maternity leave allows mothers to spend with their newborns.

The next 26 weeks - taking us all the way up to 52 weeks postpartum - are called Additional Maternity Leave, and mums can choose to take this straight after their OML. However, bear in mind that usually only the first 13 weeks of AML are paid, with the final 13 weeks going unpaid for the majority of working mums.

You can read more in our post on taking Additional Maternity Leave. If you haven't yet taken your full 52 weeks, you may be able to extend your maternity leave to a year. Speak to your employer to discuss extending your maternity leave to the full 52 weeks.

Can you extend maternity leave past 52 weeks?

Unfortunately, there's no way to extend maternity leave past 52 weeks. However, there is one way you might be able to spend a little extra time at home with your little one once maternity leave is drawing to a close: by using your holiday time.

If you have holidays accrued before your maternity leave begins, you can use them before going on maternity leave. You will also accrue holidays during your 52 weeks off, and these can be used at the end of your maternity leave. While you'll stay home from work a little longer with the wee one, remember that legally and professionally you'll still be classed as 'back at work' during this period, though.

You can speak to your employer about allocating holiday time to maximise the time you're off work after your baby's born.

Can you take more maternity leave if you're self-employed?

If you're self-employed, you're not entitled to maternity leave. However, you're also your own boss - which means you can take as much time off as you want and can afford. Self-employed mums can choose to extend their own maternity leave beyond 52 weeks, however, you won't get paid for longer than 39 weeks, which is the maximum length of time you can claim Maternity Allowance for. If you want to extend your time away from work beyond this, you may need to dip into savings.

Can you extend maternity leave because of coronavirus?

Since pregnant women are classed as 'clinically vulnerable' to Covid-19, maternity leave and pregnancy probably haven't been much fun for most new mums.

Unfortunately, despite petitions to provide a maternity leave extension for women having to take maternity leave under lockdown, there has been such change made. If your maternity leave is ending and your employer asks you to come back to work, unfortunately, you will have to go back to work like any other employee. This can be especially difficult for mums who feel like they've missed out on the real 'maternity leave' experience due to Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing.

If there are other reasons why you may not be able to go into work due to the coronavirus, such as childcare and nurseries being closed, or your own need to shield if you're a vulnerable person, then you can speak to your employer about this. If you can't work, you could be entitled to statutory sick pay while you stay at home, but unfortunately, there's no way to extend your maternity leave because of the pandemic.

While extending your maternity leave beyond 52 weeks isn't possible, 52 weeks does allow most mums ample time to enjoy most of their baby's first year in the world. If you're really unhappy about going back to work, it might be worth talking to your partner about whether you can afford to stay at home, or speaking to your employer about dropping to part-time work.