How long should you take for maternity leave?

Is it time to return to work? These are the questions you need to think about before deciding when you return to work.

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It’s a issue that can leave many mums-to-be and mums in a dilemma, but ask yourself these questions when deciding on when to go back to work and you'll soon be able to make a decision

You’ve just about got the hang of this mum thing, you’re enjoying trips to coffee shops or sing and sign with your baby and don’t bat an eyelid about dodgy nappies or carrot-stained clothes, but the time has come to start thinking about when you want to end your maternity leave and go back to work.


These are the questions you need to ask yourself when deciding on your #mumback date…

1. How much maternity leave do you get?

Statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks – a year – off from your job. The first 26 weeks are known as ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’ (OML), the last 26 weeks as ‘Additional Maternity Leave’ (AML). This amount of leave will include any weeks you take off before you have your baby, and the earliest leave can be taken is 11 weeks before your expected due week.

During OML, you will still get all the same rights under your contract of employment as if you were still at work. The only exception is that you will not get your normal pay unless your contract allows for it. If you're taking AML, this must follow on directly after Ordinary Maternity Leave and there must be no gap between the two.

You must also take at least two weeks after your birth (or four weeks if you’re a factory worker).

Many employers allow employees to add all of their annual leave on to the beginning or end of the maternity period, so you can begin your maternity leave early or extend it before you go back if you wish.


Remember, however much time you choose to take, you need to give eight weeks notice if you wish to come back earlier than your previously agreed date of return.

2. How much maternity pay does your company offer?

Your earnings during maternity leave are often the first thing you think about when deciding how long to take off.

Statutory maternity pay (SMP) is usually paid for up to 39 weeks, with the first six weeks at 90% of your average weekly earnings (AWE) before tax. For the remaining 33 weeks, you’ll be paid £138.18 or 90% of your AWE (whichever is lower).

Some companies will offer more maternity pay, for example, six months leave at full pay, which obviously will make life a lot easier, so it’s worth looking into what your workplace offers.


3. What do your personal finances look like?

If you’re only eligible for SMP, but have managed to build up a sizeable nest egg, it could mean you can take the maximum amount and still cope financially.

Remember to take advantage of savings in other areas of your life while you’re on maternity leave, such as free prescriptions and dental care.

If you’re struggling with mortgage payments, talk to your mortgage provider as they may be able to provide you with a six-month mortgage holiday. This is when they suspend or reduce mortgage payments so you can have a breather if you’re finances have dropped suddenly.

4. What are your emotional needs?

It’s very easy to leave the office on your last day before maternity leave cheerily promising to see your work colleagues in six months, only to discover that leaving your baby is going to be harder than you thought. It’s worth talking to your partner about how you’re coping emotionally at the prospect of leaving your child to return to work and how this will affect your return date.

And of course this works both ways. You may climbing the walls at the loss of conversations that don’t involve poo colour or puree combinations, and a return to work is what’s needed to restore sanity. In this case, you may want to return earlier than planned, so it’s worth preparing to be a little bit flexible.

5. How do you see your career developing?

Some mums worry about being out of the work place for an extended period because they feel out of the loop and feel anxious about the affect this might have on their career.


While it can be hard to banish the work-related FOMO (fear of missing out) while on mat leave, you can stay in the loop thanks to Keeping In Touch (KIT) days. These are days when you can go back into the office (and get paid) to find out any new developments, work on projects and carry out training. You’re allowed 10 in total.

6. What childcare do you have?

Whether it’s nursery, nanny, childminder or grandparents, sorting your childcare is going to have a bearing on when you end your maternity leave and return to work.

It may be the case that you’ll have to do a mish-mash of childcare to cover the days you work, so don’t be afraid to call on friends and family if your budget means you can’t pay for full-time care.

And if you have to return to work – for example if you’re the main breadwinner – but you’re not ready for your baby to be looked after by someone outside the family, look into additional paternity leave or shared parental leave (if your baby is due after 5 April 2015).

Your partner can take between two and 26 weeks out of your 52-week allowance for additional paternity leave and receive paternity pay.

For shared paternity leave, you can divide up your paternity leave into equal blocks instead of taking it all in one go, meaning you and your partner could take it in turns to be off with your baby for up to a year.


What helped you decide how much maternity leave to take? Let us know in the comment box below.

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