Are you confused by Maternity Leave?

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Maternity Leave and Maternity Pay in the UK can be confusing to get your head around. SMP, OML, and AML – what on earth do they all mean?

The UK has one of the longest periods of paid maternity leave in the world. BUT we have one the world’s worst paid maternity leaves.

Mums who do not qualify for SMP might qualify for Maternity Allowance (MA).

Let’s start with the essential elements of maternity leave.

Maternity Leave

Is defined as period in which a woman is legally allowed to be absent from work in the weeks before and after she gives birth (source Cambridge Dictionary).

In the UK this is a maximum period of 52 weeks. However, the 52 weeks of Maternity Leave is split into two. The first 26 weeks is called Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML), followed by Additional Maternity Leave (AML) for the second 26 weeks.

Mums who are employed are eligible for maternity leave. This eligibility starts on day one of employment.

UK Maternity Leave: What am I entitled to?

Maternity Leave can start anytime in the 11 weeks leading up to your due date. However, try to avoid starting it any earlier than necessary. Annual Leave is a great way to start your maternity leave unofficially. Remember that you need to at least start your Maternity Leave on your due date (even if your baby is late).

Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML)

A critical feature of OML is that is you have the right to return to the same job and pay. OML covers the first 26 weeks of your Maternity Leave. You have a right to the benefits set out in your employment contract; however, not the salary or wages.

Additional Maternity Leave (AML)

AML, by contrast, entitles you to return to a similar job. However, you are entitled to the same pay and conditions as before. AML starts the day after OML finishes.

Paternity Leave

Is defined as period of time that a father is legally allowed to be away from his job so that he can spend time with his new baby. (Source Cambridge Dictionary).

Paternity Leave in the UK is a minimum of one or two weeks. However, there are different qualifying criteria which should be checked.

Maternity Pay

Is defined as money that a woman is paid during the time she is legally allowed to be absent from work in the weeks before and after she has a baby (source Cambridge Dictionary).

In the UK maternity pay varies between employers. On one hand, you have employers who pay the minimum Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) and on the other, you have generous employers who offer periods of half or full pay for up to a year.

SMP for eligible employees can be paid for up to 39 weeks, usually as follows:

  • the first 6 weeks: 90% of their average weekly earnings (AWE) before tax
  • the remaining 33 weeks: £151.20 or 90% of their AWE (whichever is lower)

Tax and National Insurance need to be deducted.


SMP does have a minimum qualifying period. To be eligible for SMP you need to have been employed continuously for the 26 weeks before the ‘qualifying week’ The qualifying week is the 15th week before your due date.

For my first pregnancy, my company only offered SMP. If you earn more than £5,000 per year, SMP can be a bit of a shock.

Some employers pay Contractual Maternity Pay (CMP) to reward long service or as a primary benefit. The employer should write the details of CMP in their Maternity Policy. If you haven’t already done it, now is an excellent time to check what your policy says.

In my second pregnancy, I was entitled to a generous Maternity Pay compromising 12 weeks of full pay and 12 weeks of half pay. This was lucky because it turned out I was expecting twins!

The thought of planning an entire year away from work earning only SMP can be a frightening thought. Reduce the overwhelm and make a solid plan to see you through!

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