When Can I Go On Maternity Leave?
Tired of sitting down all day and waiting for the baby to come? If you work in an office it can be tempting to start maternity leave early. This can be true for many, even when there are no health reasons telling you to.
Long commutes, uncomfortable working spaces, the risk of catching an illness, sore backs, sleepless nights…… The list goes on right? I bet you are marking the days off on your calendar until you can start.
In this post, we are going to discuss when you can start maternity leave. And critically, why it’s important to get the date right. If you aren’t sure about how it works, you can read up on it here: “How Maternity Leave Works”
What is Maternity Leave?
Maternity Leave is the legal amount of time a woman can be absent from work due to the birth of a baby. In the UK Maternity Leave is for a maximum of 52 weeks. If you have read my other posts, you will know that Maternity Leave does not mean Maternity Pay.
Why is Your Maternity Leave Start Date Important?
The date that your Maternity Leave starts is important because this is the date that your Maternity Pay commences.
The earliest you can go on Maternity Leave is 11 weeks before your baby’s due date. The latest you can decide to go on maternity leave is your due date. Even if your baby is late it has to start on this date.
If you are only getting SMP – that means there are only six weeks of higher pay before the lower SMP rate kicks in.
It also starts the clock ticking on your return to work date. It’s too early to be thinking or talking about that…
I Work in an Office – When Should I Go on Maternity Leave?
When you work in an office there is no reason (health permitting), why you couldn’t work up until your due date. There is a temptation to get fed up in the third trimester and get trigger happy on your start date. This is not ideal because firstly you don’t want your maternity pay to start too soon. Secondly, you don’t want your maternity leave to start either.
This is because your maternity pay and leave are going to run out quickly. Meaning you will have to go back to work when your baby is only a few months old (I’m not saying this is the wrong thing to do but most of my readers say they prefer more time once the baby has arrived).
If you have holidays you need to take, now is the time to take them. There are two things you can do to ease yourself into things:
- Use some leave to be part-time for a few weeks: I did this for the second last month with both of my pregnancies. I used to have Wednesday as an annual leave day. It broke the week up and in my first pregnancy where my commute was long, it gave me a day that I didn’t have to drive anywhere.
- Use some leave to finish early: Rather than start earlier than my due date, I took two weeks of annual leave and then opted to start maternity leave on my due date. I did this on the advice of so many others who had started their maternity leave too early. They started before their due date and then sat around waiting for the baby (because the baby was two weeks late).
I’m So Uncomfortable…
If you are trying to stick it out until the end but you are really uncomfortable, here are some things that could make your working life easier:
- make sure you have an up to date risk assessment
- ask for a footrest – sometimes this is all you need to make sitting at a desk more comfortable
- ask for a special chair
- see if you can work from home for a few days a week
- ask if you can park closer to the office or get a taxi to the door
Remember that if you are signed off sick in the last four weeks, your leave will start automatically.
A final piece of advice…
If you are used to a high pressured working environment and ‘having something to do’, it can be natural to think that you are going to be bored… Trust me, there is plenty to do before the baby arrives and you will appreciate the time to yourself. It’s a final chance to get anything bought for the baby that you don’t have. It’s also a great way to finish off any projects that you have been working on. Don’t underestimate how powerful these few weeks are!
If you aren’t blessed with an amazing maternity package, I bet you are wondering if you can afford maternity leave at all? The maternity pay gap is huge in the UK, you are not alone. My new book is designed to help Mums to Be just like you. Join the waitlist for it here.