The ins-and-outs of maternity leave

When it comes to maternity leave, your entitlements as a mum today are better than ever before. And that means it’s easier to spend more stress-free time preparing for and bonding with your baby.

It can be quite a confusing topic if you’re new to it; you’re not only entitled to maternity leave, but also maternity pay, which is a different thing altogether. Our chart below should help explain things.

At the moment, all pregnant mums qualify for Statutory Maternity Leave of up to 52 weeks, made up of 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave. You can start your maternity leave up to 11 weeks before your baby is due. Or if you would rather have more time with your baby when they’re born you could work right up until your due date and take the full amount afterwards.

Whatever your final choice, you must write and tell your employer about your pregnancy and your plans no later than 15 weeks before your baby is due.

Of course, you don’t have to take your full maternity leave entitlement if you don’t want to. But legally, you have to take at least 2 weeks compulsory leave after your baby is born, or a minimum of 4 weeks if you work in a factory.

How much maternity pay will I get?

maternity rights

Money is likely to be important when it comes to preparing for and looking after your baby. Thankfully, if you've been working for your employer for 26 continuous weeks by the 15th week before your baby is due, you'll qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay. You’ll receive 90% of your salary for the first six weeks and then £124 a week, or 90% of your average earnings (if that is lower), for the next 33 weeks.

If you’re self employed or have worked for your employer for less than 26 continuous weeks into your 15th week of pregnancy, you may be entitled to Maternity Allowance instead. You can claim this for a maximum of 39 weeks. Your local benefits office will be able to help you claim.

Why it's good to use your maternity leave

Remember maternity leave gives you the chance to recover from your pregnancy and childbirth. It also gives you invaluable time to bond with your baby and learn how to look after them in a safe and loving environment. Those first few days, weeks and months you spend with your new baby are truly precious so take advantage of the time you’re allowed to take and don’t miss out on them.

How does maternity leave affect your other employment benefits?

When you are on maternity leave you are still eligible for any benefits you'd usually get if you were working as normal. That includes things like payments into a pension and private healthcare. Even your annual holiday should mount up as usual. So don’t be distracted from spending time with your baby worrying about what you might be losing out on. Just enjoy the time you have!

Working in a safe environment during pregnancy

Your employer has a legal requirement to make sure you work in safe environment when you're pregnant and breastfeeding. They must carry out a risk assessment on your role and ensure that you do not have to work with hazardous chemicals, lift heavy loads, work in extreme temperatures, work long hours or stand for long periods of time.

If your employer can't make your work conditions suitable they have to give you time off on full pay, no matter how long you've been working there. Don’t feel pressurised into taking risks or working in an unsafe environment – your baby and your health is what matters most.

What about antenatal appointments?

If you need time off for any antenatal appointments during working hours, you’re entitled to be paid for the time. This even includes relaxation sessions if that's what your doctor or midwife has advised. So don’t let work be an excuse for not switching off or attending your classes!

Please note:

The information above is intended to be used as a guide and is correct as of May 2008. If you would like further information on your maternity rights, please visit direct.gov.uk

Maternity rights chart
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