Maternity leave - a short guide to what you're entitled to

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

One rapidly-growing part of the workforce are those that don’t rely on a HR department to oversee the maternity policy.

If you're a freelancer or self-employed, you’re your own boss. So in a sense, you can take as much time off as you like. As a self-employed mum-to-be, it’s your responsibility to decide when to stop working and when to come back. Of course, the issue of pay is critically important in making that decision.

There are a few circumstances where you can qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay, but you're more likely to instead get 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.

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.

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

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash