Legal consequences of studying during maternity leave

SWmum asks Mum & Career

I’m hoping you can help me with some information I am looking for. I am due to have my first baby on 11th April 2013 and also have a place on a masters course starting September 2013. I have been trying to find out if I am allowed to study during my maternity leave but there is very little information available.

All official information just talks about what you are entitled to on maternity, rather than what you can do with it. I found an article on your website ( that suggests studying for a new qualification and hoped you might have some information about the legalities.

The course is full time but lectures are just two afternoons a week so I would be able to organise study in a way that suits me. My husband is self employed and works from home and my father is retiring just in time to help with childcare so I will have plenty of support. The course lectures finish in March so if take 12 months maternity leave I could have almost finished by the time I return to work.

I definitely want to do the course as my career is at a standstill without it, so if I absolutely had to I could resign from my job but I’d rather not if I don’t have to, especially in the current economic climate.

I’d be very grateful if you have any advice or could point me in the direction of any relevant information.



Expert Claire answers

This is an interesting question. There is nothing in the maternity legislation that prohibits you studying( or doing anything else for that matter!) during your maternity leave. If you return to work (other than for 10 Keeping in Touch days) or start work with another employer you will lose your statutory maternity pay. However, if you are undertaking a course this will not affect your pay. You should check your contract of employment to ensure there is no contractual obligation on you to obtain your employer’s consent in respect of anything you plan to do but generally this would be restricted to undertaking alternative employment and not studies.



Expert Working Families answers

Hi, I agree completely with Claire’s response. There is almost certainly no problem with your studying, although you might want to check your employment contract. It certainly doesn’t affect your statutory maternity pay, nor would it affect maternity allowance, tax credits, child benefit and any other payment you might be receiving as a working mum. There is an implied term of trust and confidence in any employment contract but I think it’s unlikely that studying during maternity leave would breach this – though as Claire says, it’s worth checking just in case it’s something your employer would see as an issue.

Comments (1)

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  1. Hi Ellie,

    Thanks so much for your question! I am afraid it’s several years ago SWMum posted this, and she may no longer read this thread. However, perhaps it helps to read some other posts on studying whilst having a baby here:
    A mum returning to University
    5 tips for studying whilst looking after a child

    From my experience with working with mothers of newborns I would say the following:
    1. It depends on you and your body. At least the first 4 weeks most mothers just need to focus on recovering and getting used to their baby, but it may well take longer. On my first NCT meeting most of us were out of the house with our first baby for the first time! And that was 6-8 weeks after giving birth I seem to remember.
    2. It depends on your baby too. Some sleep really well the first year, and you can easily find 4-6 hours per day to study. Others never sleep or cry all the time, and actually need constant attention. This also means you are exhausted yourself, and when dad comes home you can’t find the energy to study.
    3. It depends on your partner. If they are happy to take over 100% when they come home, you may well be able to find 3-4 hours a day to study.
    4. It depends on available childcare. If you have family nearby, they may be able to help and give you some more space to work.
    5. It depends on how long you take maternity leave. The first 3 months it might be hard to carve out time, but if you have 12 months you should be able to find a good routine. Try to get your baby into a routine in those first months with feeding and sleeping that works around your studying needs, and then it should be easier. (although not all babies get into a routine of course)

    Remember to find enough time to bond with your baby and spend valuable time with them. Many mothers that returned to work early regret that in later years, and e.g. make up for it with baby number 2 or 3. It can also be important to build a social circle of other parents in the area. Just to keep you mentally sound, but also for ‘intelligence’ eg. on schools, playgroups. ‘normal’ development steps, how to feed and so on and for emergency childcare in years to come.

    So, is it possible? Yes, absolutely. I know mothers who did, and found it easy. I know others who did and where it required a very strong drive and determination or lots of support, but they still did it.

    It can help to find a buddy, another mother who is also working/studying AND looking after a baby. You can keep each other motivated.

    So if you want it, go for it! Just allow some time to be a mum as well and enjoy both!

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