Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Newborn & baby health centre

What to expect on maternity leave

Your rights and how to make the most of your time off
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

When you have a baby you have certain legal rights to maternity pay and maternity leave.

It can be quite complicated to work out what you are entitled to.

It may also be quite daunting to be swept from the world of work into a world of babies.

Maternity leave

All pregnant women who are employed are entitled to one year of maternity leave (52 weeks), no matter how long they have worked for their employer.

This is made up of 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave.

If you return to work after the ordinary maternity leave, you can return to the same job. If you choose to take the additional maternity leave you can return to the same job unless it’s not practicable. You will though have the right to return to a similar job.

When you are off on maternity leave you have a range of other rights and can request flexible working arrangements if you decide to go back to work.

Statutory Maternity Pay

Statutory Maternity Pay is paid to women who have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks by the 15th week before the baby is due.

It is paid for up to 39 weeks. For the first six weeks you get 90% of your average weekly earnings and for the next 33 weeks you get £139.58 or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

Your employer may well have a maternity scheme which gives better benefits. You can find this out through your human resources department if you work for a big company, or ask your union representative.

If you don’t qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay, you may get Maternity Allowance. This is the case if you are self employed or earn below the lower earnings limit for Statutory Maternity Pay.

What to expect on maternity leave

Most women prefer to work as late as possible before starting their maternity leave. Usually you will get at least a couple of weeks at home preparing for the birth.

You’ll probably feel pretty cumbersome at this stage. It’s a good idea to rest as much as you can and make the most of time to yourself.

Some women get the urge to nest. There’s only anecdotal evidence about the nesting instinct but it’s true that some women, a few days before they give birth, feel the urge to defrost the freezer, deep clean or even decorate their homes in preparation for the birth of the baby.

It’s after the birth that maternity leave is really crucial. It takes time for a woman to get over such a big physical event.

The first few weeks of maternity leave after the birth may pass by in a blur of sleep deprivation, soreness and getting used to the demands of a tiny child. If it’s your first baby it’s a steep learning curve. You will have the support of a community midwife for the first couple of weeks who comes in to check on you and the baby.

Then you will have a health visitor at your doctors’ surgery or health centre who will monitor the baby’s progress and check that you are doing OK.

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

How to help headache pain
rash on skin
Top eczema triggers to avoid
Causes of fatigue & how to fight it
Tips to support digestive health
woman looking at pregnancy test
Is your body ready for pregnancy?
woman sleeping
Sleep better tonight
Treating your child's cold or fever
fifth disease
Illnesses every parent should know
spoonfull of sugar
Surprising things that harm your liver
woman holding stomach
Understand this common condition
What your nails say about your health