Got a baby on the way? Congratulations!

Wonderful news for many reasons, and getting some time off work must be one of the best. Result! (Although bringing a new life into the world is pretty good, too).

If you were wondering what kind of maternity leave you’re entitled to when having a baby, here’s a short guide.

(Paternity leave, of course, is very important too, and we’ll come back to that in a future blog.)


For employed mums-to-be

When you're having a break from work to welcome your little human to their new life, you may be eligible to:

  • Take time off as Statutory Maternity Leave
  • Claim Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)
  • Take time off for antenatal care
  • Claim other forms of governmental support

Mums can get up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, depending on their length of employment, and up to 39 weeks of maternity pay. (SMP adds up to £145.18 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.)

The earliest you can start your leave is 11 weeks before the week you’re expected to give birth. You can use the maternity leave calculator on gov.uk to find out how much you’re entitled to, depending on your circumstances.

Antenatal care consists of medical appointments, and things like parenting classes, and employers must give this time off to mums and fathers / partners. There are exceptions of course, based on your circumstances - have a look at Pregnant Employees’ Rights for more.

In terms of benefits, there's a few available; Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credits, and Income Support. Also, the Sure Start Maternity Grant is a £500 grant towards the cost of having a baby, and usually goes to those who are having their first child, or who already claim certain benefits. There’s no strings attached and you can find out more at gov.uk.

The above figures are based on your legal rights in the UK (as of November 2018) - of course, if your employer offers more as part of their benefits package, that's even better. Speak to your manager or HR department to find out what's available for you.

Maternity leave for self-employed mothers

Unfortunately, self-employed people are not covered by the government’s maternity policy

If you're a freelancer or self-employed, you’re your own boss. With that, comes a sense of control over your day to day that is difficult to match when in employment. Although this means that you’ll have a relatively flexible schedule, unfortunately, being self-employed doesn’t get you very far with maternity pay. In fact, self-employed people aren’t entitled to statutory maternity or paternity pay at all in the UK.

Self-employed women can instead apply for Maternity Allowance, which you can claim as soon as you've been pregnant for 26 weeks. You'll need to have been doing a minimum amount of paid work in the lead up to your due date, and the amount will depend on how much National Insurance you've paid in. There's a good outline of the factors in this article from Simply Business.

New mums who are self-employed should be extra careful that they prioritise their own wellbeing over going back to work quickly. Freelancers can find it particularly hard to switch off from work, but rest and recuperation is particularly important for those who are finding their feet as parents.

Maternity leave around the world

Maternity leave policies are different all across the globe. Indian mothers get 26 weeks (recently raised from 12), but Puerto Rican mums only get 8. In general, the Scandinavian countries are the most generous; Norway offers up to 56 weeks leave (at 80% pay) and Sweden you can go all the way to 68, if it's shared with the father.

And in Finland, new parents even get a box of supplies from the government, containing bodysuits, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing products, nappies, bedding and a small mattress. How nice is that?

In the UK though, you're eligible for a decent amount of leave, in which you can spend some memorable time bonding with your little one without having to worry about what's happening in the office. Lovely.

Maternity leave FAQ

Do you accrue holidays on maternity leave?

A woman is entitled to the same employment rights as if she was in work, during maternity leave. This means that annual leave, including bank holidays, should be accrued as usual throughout the maternity leave period. It is often popular that women might take a lot of their annual leave before maternity leave begins, or after their maternity leave ends so as not to inconvenience the business. However, if a woman is unable to take all of the annual leave after she returns from maternity, she must be allowed to carry it over to the next year, by law.

Working from home during maternity leave

It is illegal for women to work within the first two weeks after having given birth. This is extended into maternity leave, as an employer cannot insist that a woman carries out work whilst she is on maternity leave. Equally, a woman cannot insist on being given work to do. If this happens, the woman will be classed as returning to work and the maternity leave, and statutory maternity pay, will be over.

How much notice for maternity leave should I give?

You should tell your employer about your pregnancy at least 15 weeks before the week of your due date. If this is not possible, you should tell your employer as soon as possible. If you work in manual labour or are on your feet all day, you may want to inform your employer early on so that you are exempt from manual handling.

What are KIT days?

Maternity leave legislation has been amended to allow up to ten KIT (keep in touch) days with an employer. This does not affect statutory maternity pay unless the 10-day limit is exceeded. During these KIT days, women are encouraged to meet their employer to talk through work that has been done in their absence, to ensure an easier return to work after maternity leave has ended.

Should I make a request for flexible working?

All employees have the right to request flexible working, and there may be no better time to do that than when your priorities have changed since becoming a parent. Whether its part-time working, reduced hours, job sharing or working from home, a new way of working could be just what you need. Make a formal request in writing up to four months in advance. Your employer should then hold a meeting and inform you of their decision within 14 days.

Benefits and grants for new parents

There are also other benefits available to new parents outside of maternity leave allowance. Anyone who is parent to a child under 16 or under 20 if they remain in formal education, is eligible for child benefit. The benefits that used to be called Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit have been amended and now come under Universal Credit. The Sure Start Maternity Grantis a £500 grant towards the cost of having a baby, and usually goes to those who are having their first child, or who already claim certain benefits. There’s no strings attached and you can find out more at gov.uk.

The above figures are based on your legal rights in the UK (as of November 2018) - of course, if your employer offers more as part of their benefits package, that's even better. Speak to your manager or HR department to find out what's available for you.


Stay tuned for more simple guides to parental leave - next time, we'll consider the dads.

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash