It is so important to plan for your maternity leave and start early. We have listed the key aspects you need to consider.
Don’t leave it too late
Late stages of pregnancy can be incredibly uncomfortable – especially in the hot summer months, or if you have a long commute. If you get to the stage where you are waddling around the office going for a wee every five minutes, stretching and grunting in meetings – it is honestly better not to be there at all.
Try to negotiate time working from home where possible, but make sure that you are obviously productive when you do this (email contact and phone calls throughout the day and tangible outputs) so that you don’t appear to be slacking off.
Unless you have a real financial imperative for working up to the day of the birth, do try to plan to take at least two to three weeks off beforehand. It can be really hard if the baby arrives early (around 40% of babies do come before their due date!) and you have had no time to prepare – practically, physically or emotionally.
Becoming a mother is a huge transition and although nothing can fully prepare you for it, a couple of weeks to adapt to a different way of life can be really beneficial.
When to begin and when to return from maternity leave
Think carefully about when you want to begin your maternity leave and when you want to return. You may be absolutely certain that you only want to take a couple of months off, or you may have no intention of returning before your year is complete. It is really helpful for the business to have a good idea of what to expect so they know how to manage covering your role.
Your job must be open to you following six months of maternity leave, and you are still entitled to a job of equivalent seniority and pay following a full year of maternity leave – although it may not be the same job. This may well have an impact on your decision-making if your specific role is important to you.
Remember that you also accrue holiday throughout your paid maternity leave, so you could always add this to end of your chosen period of maternity leave to extend it further, or potentially use it to come back for shorter weeks initially.
You are also entitled to request flexible working (part-time, compressed hours, days starting/finishing later/earlier etc.) but the organisation is not obliged to agree to your request if there are justifiable business reasons why it would not work. You are only allowed to make one flexible working application in any 12 month period, so if you decide to submit one, make sure you put together a really well thought out proposal.
It is really difficult to know what you will want to do months down the line before the baby has even arrived, so all you can do is make a plan based on what feels right at the time. Remember it is just a plan, and plans can change, but it is important to give your intention.
You are legally obliged to tell your company when you intend to begin your maternity leave by the beginning of the 15th week before your baby is due. Remember that you must give at least 28 days’ notice if you want to change your leave date. Unless you tell them otherwise, your company must assume that you intend to take the full year of maternity leave. If you wish to come back earlier than stated, you need to give at least eight weeks’ notice.
If you are unsure of your legal obligations, and those of your employer, do make sure you do your research: http://www.direct.gov.uk/maternity.dsb
Author: Tamsin Crook, founder of Making Careers Work – a maternity coaching and career support service which helps mums and mums-to-be reach their full potential in their careers within the dynamic context of their family life. As a mum of three boys herself, she understands the desire to try to balance the needs of the family with personal career ambitions – not always straightforward! Tamsin works with women at all stages of motherhood, and is based in Thames Ditton, Surrey.
Tamsin is one of the key contributors to Mum & Career and has written most pages on Maternity Leave for us.