Time off work when pregnant or just had a baby

Last updated: 07/04/2022

Maternity leave and what you need to tell your employer

If you have a contract with your employer, you are entitled to Statutory Maternity Leave of 52 weeks regardless of how long you have worked for them. The contract does not need to be in writing.

Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance are only paid for 39 weeks therefore, if you take 52 weeks Statutory Maternity Leave, the last 13 weeks are unpaid. You may get an increase in your Universal Credit or can apply for it when your maternity pay stops.

The earliest you can start maternity leave and pay is 11 weeks before your baby is due, however, you may prefer to work for longer and have more leave left to take after your baby is born. The latest you can start maternity leave and pay is the day your baby is born.

You must tell your employer when you want to start your maternity leave by the end of the 15th week before the week the baby is due. Being off work sick in the last four weeks of pregnancy can trigger the start of your maternity leave.

Sharing your time off work and maternity pay with your baby’s other parent

You may be able to share your maternity leave and pay with your baby’s other parent. This is called Shared Parental Leave and Statutory Shared Parental Pay. You can end your maternity leave early and, with your baby’s other parent, take Shared Parental Leave instead. If you both meet the qualifying criteria, you can then decide how you want to divide the Shared Parental Leave and pay. You can take Shared Parental Leave in up to three separate blocks, but your employer can agree to more. They can also let you split each block into several shorter periods of work and leave.

Optional keeping-in-touch days

You and your employer can arrange for you to come into work for up to 10 days during your maternity leave (except during the first two weeks after your baby is born). It is up to you and your employer what type of work you do during these days. You may, for example, want to go in for conferences or training days. Your employer cannot force you to do this. You will receive your day’s pay at the normal rate less the proportionate day’s Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance.

Related information

For more information on your income and time off work when you are pregnant visit:

Maternity Action

Helpline: 0808 802 0029 Mon – Fri, 10am -1pm


Working Families

Helpline: 0300 012 0312

Returning to work after time off with your baby

Your employer will assume that you will take all 52 weeks of your Statutory Maternity Leave. If you decide not to take all your leave you must give your employer at least eight weeks’ notice that you are returning to work early.

Your employer can insist that you do not return until you’ve had eight weeks leave.

Your Statutory Maternity Pay/Maternity Allowance does not have to be paid back if you decide not to return to work after your maternity leave. You may have to pay back any Occupational Maternity Pay you have received depending on your contract of employment.

Health and safety

Your employer should do an assessment and offer you an alternative job or suspend you on full pay if there is a health and safety risk because you are pregnant. You are entitled to paid time off to attend antenatal appointments and classes. If your employer dismisses you because you are pregnant, this is automatically an unfair dismissal and you should seek legal advice.