Maternity & paternity leave: The basics

When you’ve got a little one on the way, there are some super exciting things you’ll need to get prepared. What colour will you paint the nursery? What adorable little outfit will you bring them home from the hospital in? What baby monitor will you use to help you on your parenting journey? (Of course, we recommend Bluebell). But amongst all the excitement and cuteness, there will be some important things that you’ll need to organise. Think of it as life admin. And we know it can be a little less interesting than choosing between duck egg blue and lemon drop yellow. That’s why we’ve put together a guide to help you with one part of your life admin: maternity and paternity leave.

This post is simply an overview of the basic rules surrounding leave when you’re expecting a baby. Look out for further posts in this series where we’ll be looking in more detail at maternity leave, paternity leave, shared parental leave and leave when you’re adopting.

These are UK rules, and they may differ from country to country. You can also use this handy calculator to figure out if you can get leave and how much you’ll get paid in that time.

Telling your boss you’re pregnant

For many, this can be super straightforward. Depending on your work relationships and environment, you may tell your boss you’re pregnant as soon as you find out. Maybe they’ll even celebrate with you! But for others, this can be a little bit more difficult and can add to anxieties. Just remember that there are laws in place to protect you from discrimination, and there's lots of help out there. Understanding these laws and what you’re entitled to can help give you a little bit more confidence when discussing your leave with your boss. Think of it this way: you’re continuing the existence of the human race! That’s a pretty big job, and one that employers need to understand and respect.

  • You have to tell your employer you’re pregnant at least 15 weeks before your due date (both Mum and partner).
  • To work out the date, take the Sunday before your baby’s due date and count back 15 weeks. This will give you your ‘notification week’.
  • If you can, try to tell them earlier for time off for antenatal appointments and an earlier risk assessment, especially if you have any complications.
  • Also, make sure to tell them that you want to take maternity leave, and the start and end date of your leave (mums).

Maternity leave

Make the most of maternity leave and help baby sleep with Bluebell

Mums can take up to a year off work when they bring a beautiful little human into the world. This may sound like a long time, but it really can flash right past, so make the most of it! Whether your employer is laid back or a bit more formal, there’s some information that all mums-to-be should be aware of.

  • Maternity pay is only available for 39 weeks max. so you may decide to go back to work after this (sad faces all round).
  • You may need to provide a medical certificate (MATB1) showing your baby’s due date. You can get this from your doctor/midwife.
  • You can start your maternity leave from between 11 weeks before your baby’s due, right up to their due date - think of what would be best for you.
  • If you’re not taking leave, you still need a little bit of rest after going through labour. So, you must take at least two weeks off after your baby’s born, or four weeks if you work in a factory (no sneaking back to your desk - it’s the law!).
  • Don’t worry if you’re at a new job. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked for your employer or how many hours you do, you’re entitled to this maternity leave.
  • You are still entitled to paid holiday, protection from unfair dismissal, pension payments and any other employee benefits.

Ordinary maternity leave

  • This is the first six months of maternity leave.
  • If you return to work in this period, you can return to the exact same job you were doing before leave - hooray!

Additional maternity leave

  • This is the next six months of your maternity leave.
  • If you return to work in this period, you can return to the same job unless it’s no longer available.
  • If your job is no longer available, you’ll be given a similar job with the same conditions and pay. This is pretty rare, but it’s still something to take note of and discuss with your employer, just in case.

Paternity leave

Bluebell is one of the only baby monitors that looks after parents too

Of course, we're not going to forget about partners. Once your bundle of joy comes into the world, you won’t want to leave their side. You might also need to be on hand to look after Mum. Normal paternity leave isn’t very long, but you do have the option for Shared Parental Leave. This is such a special time for your family, so if you want to spend time with your little one as they start their life, you should make sure your leave is sorted with your employer well in advance of the birth.

  • Partners can choose to take one or two weeks paid paternity leave.
  • You must take your leave all in one go.
  • It can only start once your baby’s been born, and must end within 56 days after their birth (so make sure to plan accordingly!).
  • You need to give your employer 28 days’ notice if you want to change the dates.

Shared Parental Leave (SPL)

If you meet certain criteria, you may be able to share leave. This means 50 weeks of leave (37 weeks paid) can be split between Mum and partner, either at different times or at the same time. This can be so exciting, and such a great time for bonding if you take leave together. Or, if you stagger it at different times, both parents will get to spend time with baby at this wonderful stage of their life. Mum will still have to take the first two weeks after birth off, but the rest of the time can be shared.

To qualify to take SPL, you must:

  • Share primary responsibility for the baby at the time of their birth or adoption placement.
  • Have notified your employer properly, providing them with the correct evidence (so important - make sure you get it done).
  • Mum must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks at the end of your notification week.
  • Partner must have been employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks leading up to baby’s due date. You must have earned, on average, at least £30 a week for 13 of those weeks.

If you’re adopting

Adopting a child can be life changing, and it’s something you’ll need time to adjust to. Whether you’re adopting a little one from the UK or overseas, you’re entitled to leave as you welcome them into your world!

  • If you’re a couple adopting a child, one parent can take Statutory Adoption Leave (SAL)
  • The other parent can get paternity leave.
  • Adopters are also able to take SPL if they qualify.
  • You may have to provide proof of the adoption or surrogacy.

Adoption leave can start:

  • Up to 14 days before the child starts living with you (UK) or within 28 days of this date (overseas)
  • The day the child is born or the day after (surrogates)

We love beach babies - monitor baby outside of the home with Bluebell

How to claim

In between work, scans, chores, shopping for baby, getting plenty of rest and attempting to keep up a reasonable social life, you should try to slot in some time for important life admin (why, oh why, can’t there be more hours in the day?). Getting your leave sorted early in pregnancy can put your mind at rest (a little bit).

You’ll find lots of information online detailing who can take what leave, how and when, and what they’ll earn. It’s understandable that it can all get a bit confusing. That’s why we’re going to break it down for you. Look out for further posts in this series where we’ll be looking at each type of leave, who’s entitled to it, how much you’ll earn in that time and ways in which you can make the most of it! Let us know if you’ve got a little one on the way and have any questions about leave.