Planning a perfect maternity leave is hard!


Katie is pregnant and wants to know how much maternity leave she’s entitled to. How much maternity pay she will get? She has lots of questions about the timing of the leave and what she has to do to get it. She can’t afford to get it wrong as she’ll be surviving on this money.

She wanted a perfect maternity leave but there are so many questions to answer! She’s heard lots of conflicting and confusing information.

Sound familiar?

My family are in a similar situation at the moment so I set off doing some research. This article is what I came up with.

We’ve created a quartet of posts covering

I’d really recommend you check out the other three posts for lots more information. We have posts coming soon on Paternity Leave and Pay and Shared Parental Leave. Stay tuned!

You need to know the answers to these questions!

I believe that reading this article and the sister articles I’ve created will equip you with the knowledge to plan your perfect maternity leave. You can then complete our Parental Leave Plan. You’ll know exactly what you’re getting and what you’re not.

We touch on some of the more detailed rules later on in our Maternity and FAQs. You’ll also find information on your rights, time limits and lots more.

Across our parental leave articles we aim to answer questions like:

  • What parental leave am i eligible for?
  • What parental pay am i eligible for?
  • What do I get if I’m not eligible
  • How do I apply for parental leave and pay?
  • Are there time limits on when I can apply?
  • What rights do I have?
  • Can i do any work at all during my period of leave?
  • What about going back to work?
  • Plus much more

Maternity Leave in the UK

This information is based on being a parent in the UK, but those in other countries will benefit from our downloadable and printable resources and general tips.

Before researching this topic I wasn’t aware that in the USA parents aren’t entitled to paid leave after their children are born. I sat at my laptop incredulous for a minute before realising I wasn’t actually surprised. Maybe money would be better spent on this than a large wall, but that depends on your politics!

Download your free Parental Leave Plan

We’ve created Parental Leave Plans with space to input your important application deadlines and dates. You can print and pin it on your fridge or on your wall. Use it along with this post and you’ll know exactly when you need to do each task. 

Some time in the future I’d really like to revisit this topic from the point of view of parents in the U.S. If that’s something you’re interested in, please let us know.

Download your Free Parental Leave Plan

Wait! Might I not even qualify for Maternity Leave?

There are minimum amounts of time off and pay that employers have to give their employees who fall pregnant. These are called statutory maternity leave and statutory maternity pay.

Of course, there are qualification rules for these.

To qualify for Statutory Maternity Leave you must:

  • Be an employee (i.e not a ‘worker’ – see below)
  • give your employer the correct notice which is at least 15 weeks before your due date. You should tell your employer the due date and the date you want to go on maternity leave. Your employer must write to you within 28 days confirming the start and end dates of your leave.

You can use this very useful calculator on the government website to workout the dates by which you need to do each bit.

For SML (statutory maternity leave), it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been with your employer, how many hours you work or how much you get paid. You will be entitled to take it. These things do come into play with the maternity pay side though.

What if I’m a ‘worker’?

You might not qualify for maternity leave but could still claim Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). For freelance workers, being ‘between placements’ and receiving SMP will in effect be very similar to being an employee on SML and receiving SMP.

See our section towards the end of this post!

When can I go on Maternity Leave?

These rules apply to determine when your Statutory Maternity Leave will start:

  • The earliest you can begin the leave is 11 weeks before your due date. (Most women choose to go on maternity leave later than this as it allows more time with their baby once he or she is born)
  • As soon as the baby is born (if you have a premature delivery)
  • If you’re diagnosed with a pregnancy-related illness that makes you miss work, in the 4 weeks before your due-date-week, your maternity leave is supposed to begin automatically.

Therefore to be clear, you can start your maternity leave any time you wish in the last 11 weeks before your due date.

How long is Maternity Leave?

All pregnant employed women in the UK are entitled to a full year (52 weeks) of Statutory Maternity Leave – and that doesn’t depend on how long you’ve been in your job. Everyone receives this.

You don’t have to take all this leave if you don’t want to. You need to take a minimum of 2 weeks after your baby is born (or 4 weeks if you work in a factory).

Please let me know if you know why this factory rule came about!

The 52 weeks of maternity leave is technically split into two periods of 26 weeks. It is split because your employment rights are slightly different in the two periods. This brings us onto our next heading.

While you’re entitled to 52 weeks of leave, maternity pay only lasts 39 of those 52 weeks, so if you take the full year, 13 weeks of it is unpaid.

What are my rights during Maternity Leave?

As we began to explore the above, maternity leave is split into two 26 week blocks.

  • During the first 26 weeks, known as Ordinary Maternity Leave, if you want to return to work during this period you have the right to go back to exactly the same job as you had before you started the leave
  • If you want to return during/at the end of the second 26 weeks you have the right to go back to the same job unless your employer deems it is no longer available. If this is the case you have the right to go back to a similar job with a similar role, pay and conditions.

During maternity leave you also have the right

  • To accrue (build up) paid holiday
  • To be protected against unfair dismissal
  • To continue to benefit from any employee benefits you previously received (eg employee pension scheme, medical insurance etc)

Often the holiday or annual leave you’ve built up is tagged onto the end of your period of leave so that you have the extra time off. If for whatever reason this can not happen, you should be paid for the leave you have accrued. 

Can I work whilst on Maternity Leave?

Yes, but only a bit.

If you’re employed and on Maternity Leave you can work ‘Keeping in touch’ days, as we explain below.

Anything outside of this and it gets complicated. 

The simple advice would be to just enjoy the time with your newborn baby. Of course this is difficult if you’re struggling on maternity pay. 

If you intend to do anything extra during SML on an official basis (i.e anything more than occasionally doing online surveys for cash), you need to check your contract. Is there a clause preventing you from working ‘elsewhere’ during your employment? Your SML period is still covered by all the clauses in your contract so be careful here. If you go against what is written down you could be disciplined or sacked. 

If you chose to set up your own side business, or work on a business from home during your SML, it would be best to get advice about this from an accountant or HMRC advisor as to whether you can do it without altering your entitlements. 

If you’re determined to do something financially productive during your SML, why not invest in yourself by learning a new skill?

I recently learned all about website creation, drawing and graphic design and the use of Adobe Ilustrator and Photoshop on Udemy. I thought they were great subjects to learn that gave me skills completely different to those I use at work. 

What are Keeping in Touch Days?

Whilst on maternity leave (or additional paternity leave or adoption leave) you’re entitled to work up to 10 ‘keeping in touch (KIT) days’. This number of 10 days is set to go up in the near future.  Working just one hour in a day counts as a whole KIT day.

Many people use their keeping in touch days to attend training that failing to attend would otherwise negatively affect them. Of course they can be used for normal days at work, which will help ease the return to work so you don’t feel so out of practice with your job.

Taking them can ease your transition back to working again. Your employer can not force you to take them. They will not extend your period of maternity leave. They can be taken at any time throughout your leave (before or after the birth) except the 2 weeks of compulsory maternity leave (4 weeks for factory workers) immediately after the birth.

If you do any work in addition to your 10 Keeping in Touch days, you lose your SMP for that week.

Taking these days does not affect your rights to leave and pay. What you’re doing ‘at work’ during the days should be agreed beforehand.

You’re not allowed to start working another job as an employee during the maternity leave period if your original employer is paying you SMP.

You are allowed to make money in a self employed business (eg working from home) whilst on maternity leave and receiving SMP from your employer.

How to ensure you get paid correctly for KIT days

You should be entitled to get paid for working the KIT days and this should be above the national minimum wage. The employer should be paying you your normal rate for these days although the law is a little hazy on it.

If you work the correct amount of KIT days you should you should continue to receive your SMP (or SAP etc). However any additional pay must be agreed with your employer. This is done in two ways.

Your employer may choose to pay you your normal rate on top of your SMP. They may choose to offset your SMP against your normal rate. They’re not allowed to pay you less than the SMP rate.

When you agree to return for your KIT days it is essential that you agree with your employer how you will be paid. Go ahead and ask whether your payment for the KIT days will be offset against your statutory maternity pay.

You can remind them that as an employer they’re entitled to claim back 92% (103% for small employers) of your SMP from HMRC.  Obviously coming out with such a statement isn’t easy to do but it’s in your arsenal if you’re dealing with someone in HR who isn’t sympathetic with your situation.

Either way, you need to be clear in your own head before you go for these days, how you will be paid. If you’re not particularly happy with the arrangement you’re under no obligation to work the KIT days.

For more information, visit Maternity Action for their in-depth post on KIT days.

What if I’m not eligible for maternity leave because I’m a ‘worker’?

A worker is someone who works freelance or as a locum or on a ‘staff bank’ or similar. They often work through an agency and pick up shifts as they come. They can choose which shifts to accept and work as many or as little as they choose.

If you work for an agency as a freelancer/locum/bank worker you need to check your contract/status with the agency as to what your employment status is. Are you an employee of the agency or a ‘worker’ that they direct to different jobs.

Agency workers can’t claim maternity leave. They can still claim Statutory Maternity Pay if they meet the SMP qualifying conditions. You do not need to be classed as an employee to qualify for SMP.

You can claim SMP if

  • your agency deducts tax and National Insurance from your pay through PAYE,
  • you meet the other normal qualifying conditions for getting SMP.

The rules however are complex and are tackled in much greater depth by Maternity Action here. They also cover how workers qualify for maternity allowance if they’re not eligible for SMP. Check out this page by Working Families here which is another great resource.

Avoid these Maternity Leave pitfalls!

I hope this post has made the complex process of planning a maternity or paternity leave period a bit more straightforward. Please follow some of the links within the posts to resources linked to topics that were especially complicated.

These are the common pitfalls I hope the advice above will allow you to avoid.

  • You don’t realise what you’re entitled to
  • If it sounds like you’re getting less than you should be, question it
  • You don’t access shared parental leave because it seems complicated
  • You don’t get your forms in in time
  • You don’t keep track of all your documents
  • You get overwhelmed by all the information

Action Steps to get your perfect maternity leave!

1) Read our Maternity and Paternity posts and work out what you’re entitled to – leave, pay, rights, plans


2) Keep an eye out on our site for our upcoming posts on Paternity Leave and Shared Parental Leave!


3) Print our Maternity Leave plan and fill it in with what you’ve learned


4) Consider whether what you’ve learned has changed your plans for your parental leave.



If you enjoyed this post I’d be super grateful if you’d share it! Thanks 😀

Where to find more information on Maternity Leave?

Whilst researching this topic I discovered that there are so many layers to it. I’ve tried to summarise all the points in this article in an easy to understand manner, but there is so much more detail that you need to understand about each point if it applies to you.

Here are two links that you can go to for more information. They’re very long posts but try and find the paragraphs that relate to you.

The government site on detailed maternity benefit (leave and pay) advice

A charity called Maternity Action tackles all these topics in detail. As per their website they are the ‘UK’s leading charity committed to ending inequality and improving the health and well-being of pregnant women, partners and young children – from conception through to the child’s early years’. My family has found their site incredibly helpful and I’ve linked to them a couple of times over our maternity posts. They’re a great resource for parents!