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First smile, first tooth, first word and first step – so much can happen in the first year! Whether this is your first baby or you’ve got a whole army of cuties, you can use this time for recovering, bonding, learning and growing with your little ones. But how do you go about taking leave? How long is it? Will you get paid? There are so many questions when it comes to taking maternity leave, so we thought we’d lay it out for you.
Of course, not everyone can take their full leave. Finances play a big part in this, as well as anxieties about your job and losing career confidence. This is why it’s so, so important to remember that it’s illegal for your employer to discriminate against you for taking maternity leave. In an age of robots, electric cars and super smart baby monitors, it’s amazing to think that this type of discrimination still exists. If you feel like you’re being discriminated against, you can get help from a union, a legal specialist or organisations like Maternity Action. But fingers crossed it all goes smoothly and you don’t have to get in touch with them!
What are the rules?
Of course, with anything like this, there are plenty of hoops to jump through. Here are some things that you need to know:
- You must tell your employer your pregnant by your notifications week – this is 15 weeks before your due date.
- You can always tell them before this. You probably want to think about telling them before, especially if you’ve had any complications, so you can get an earlier risk assessment.
- The earliest you can start your leave is 11 weeks before your due date. Pregnancy can be tough – so it makes sense if you need a couple of months off to get over the last few hurdles.
- You’re entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay if you earn at least £116 a week and have worked at your job for at least 26 weeks when you reach your notification week.
- If you’re planning on starting on your due date but then your baby’s born a bit early, your maternity leave will start then.
- Once you’re on leave, if you want to change the date that you return to work, you need to give your boss at least eight weeks’ notice.
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How long is it?
‘Not long enough!’ We hear many of you cry. How long you take is up to you, to an extent. Some mums choose to return to work straight away (although you legally have to take at least two weeks). If you want, you can take up to 52 weeks – 39 weeks paid and 13 weeks unpaid. The 52 weeks are split into two 26 week groups of:
- Ordinary maternity leave – if you return to work in this time, you can go back to the exact same job you were doing before, no debates.
- Additional maternity leave – if you return to work on these last six months, you can return to the same job as long as it’s available. If it’s not, you may be given a different job with the same conditions and pay. This is definitely something to think about and discuss with your boss if you’re taking more than 26 weeks.
How much will I get paid?
Statutory Maternity Pay
Let’s put it this way – you will get paid, just probably not quite as much as you’re used to. As long as you meet the requirements (26+ weeks at your job, earning at least £116 a week), you’re entitled to 39 weeks of SMP, which is:
- 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks.
- £148.68 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.
- Unpaid for the final 13 weeks.
To get those last 13 weeks in, some parents plan ahead and save a bit for this time. You could also look at using your annual leave for some of it (which will still build up while you’re on maternity leave).
Contractual Maternity Pay
Alternatively, your employer may offer CMP, which is some extra pay on top of SMP. Not all companies are able to do this, but it can be oh so helpful if they do offer it. This all needs to be discussed with your boss as terms differ from company to company.
It may come with some extra conditions so that it’s beneficial for both of you, such as you agreeing to return to that job after your leave, or agreeing that you’ll have to pay back the extra money if you don’t return to work. They scratch your back, you scratch theirs!
Many women are self-employed and don’t have a company behind them to help them out with leave, have recently stopped working or just don’t meet requirements. This is where the government steps in. You’ll get the same amount as you would with SMP as long as:
- You’ve been employed or self-employed for 26 out of 66 weeks before your due date.
- For at least 13 of those weeks, you’ve earned at least £30.
- Or your spouse/civil partner runs a business and you help them.
You can only get the full allowance if you’ve paid enough national insurance contributions – so it (literally) pays to keep your accounts in order!
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Maternity leave benefits both baby and you
It’s clear that spending the first year with your baby is fantastic for your family’s wellbeing. But what does science have to say about this?
It may actually lower infant mortality rate
A horrible thing to think about, but it’s a huge argument for paid maternity leave. This study found that just 10 weeks of paid maternity leave was associated with a 10% lower neonatal and infant mortality rate. They looked at a whopping 141 countries for this study, so it’s not just in the UK; across countries and cultures, maternity leave saves lives!
It encourages breastfeeding and all the goodness that comes with it
It makes perfect sense. If you’re there with your baby, you’re more likely to push to initiate and continue breastfeeding. Of course, you can pump and collect your milk, but it also becomes easier to start using formula more and more for the convenience. Although not everyone can breastfeed, and not everybody chooses to, many new mums feel it's important to try as it has so many benefits, like reducing baby’s risk of infections, SIDS and obesity, and reducing your risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.
The WHO advises that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months, and this study found that women who received 12+ weeks of paid leave were more likely to start breastfeeding and to still be breastfeeding at six months. This study looked at 239 papers on breastfeeding and maternity leave and found that more maternity leave equalled longer breastfeeding duration. And this study found that just one extra month of maternity leave increased breastfeeding initiation by 7.4% – now who could argue with that? (And there are loads more studies that come to similar conclusions – trust the science!).
It helps children as they grow
It may seem strange to think that maternity leave can have an effect on baby’s health years into the future, but this study looked at over 3,500 children and found that just a few weeks of maternity leave means that children may be less likely to develop things like asthma and hearing or vision problems, even seven years later. That’s pretty incredible!
It’s a plus for your mental health
Although having a baby can be a trigger for mental health issues (they affect one in five mums during pregnancy or in their baby’s first year!) maternity leave has been found to have a positive impact on the mental health of mums. This study found that mums who took 12+ weeks of maternity leave had fewer symptoms of depression. And this study found that it continues to benefit you in the future – women who took maternity leave around the birth of their first child had fewer depressive symptoms in old age!
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That first year (or however long you decide to take) really can flash right past. Before you know it, you’ll be switching mummy coffee mornings for client meetings again. But try not to feel too guilty about returning to work, or even thinking about work while on maternity leave – it’s totally OK to love both your children and your job! We’d love to hear how you spent your maternity leave, and if you’ve got any tips for mums-to-be!