29/11/2013 05:54 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

How Much Maternity Leave Can I Take?

New 'Apprentice' sidekick Karren Brady recently admitted to taking just three days off when her daughter was born.

But while her decision may have been more about fear of losing her footing on the career ladder, for many mums, money worries and financial pressures mean they're being forced back to their desks early.

And one in ten of us are cutting short planned maternity leave, according to research from the comparison site

So here's our guide to your maternity leave - your finances and your rights.

How much time off can I have?

You can take up to one year, (52 weeks), off work, but you'll only get maternity pay for up to 39 weeks. That means if you want the full 52 weeks off, you're facing 13 weeks of unpaid leave.

On the plus side, while you're pregnant you're entitled to paid time off for any hospital or doctor's appointments, regardless of how long you've worked for your company, so that means you can't be forced to take time from your annual holiday leave.

When can I start my maternity leave?

The earliest you can start your maternity leave (and maternity pay), is 11 weeks before your due date. But you must tell your employer you're planning to go on maternity leave at least 15 weeks before your baby is due.

While you can work right up until your baby is born, if you're still at work during your last four weeks and take time off sick due to your pregnancy your employer can insist on you starting your maternity leave immediately.
For more information, Working Families have some downloadable fact sheets.

How much maternity pay will I get?

Working out what you'll get can be complicated as it depends on whether you're employed, how much you earn, how generous your boss is, or if you're self employed.

If you're employed, the basic payout is known as 'statutory maternity pay' and, providing you've worked for the same company for six months, you'll get 90% of your average gross weekly earnings for the first six weeks of your leave, followed by £124.88 for the next 33 weeks.

Some companies are more generous than this, so have a chat with your human resources department to find out what their policy is. Any maternity pay you get isn't tax free; you'll pay tax and national insurance in the usual way.

Your employer may ask to see a MATB1 form which says when your baby is due. You can get this from your doctor or midwife 21 weeks into your pregnancy.

What if I'm self-employed?

If you're self-employed, or have been in your job for less than six months, you can apply for Maternity Allowance. This is worth £124.88 a week and paid for 39 weeks.

For more information on all these payments and how to apply go to

What about paternity leave?

Your partner can get time off too; up to two weeks leave and paternity pay. The basic amount is £124.88 a week; but as with maternity pay some companies are more generous than this.

Any other cash on offer?

Make sure you apply for child benefit too. This works out at £20.30 a week for your first child and £13.40 for each other child but payments have been frozen for the next three years due to recent budget cuts. Go online to apply, or fill in the forms in your hospital maternity pack. Payments can only be backdated for three months so do this as soon as you can.

And put in a claim for tax credits too. How much you'll get depends on your family income. Go to for more details.

Going back to work

'Keeping in touch' (KIT) days are a relatively new workplace concept and can be a great way to keep a foot in the office environment without doing a full day's work. Great for helping you avoid that 'first day at school' feeling as they can be used for training, catching up with colleagues, sitting in on meetings and keeping up with any new workplace systems rather than going in to do your usual job.

New mums can have up to ten KIT days during their maternity leave without affecting their maternity pay, but these days are about flexibility so you'll need to discuss days, hours and pay with your boss.

And remember companies will assume you're taking the full year off unless you tell them otherwise so do let them know if you're planning to go back early.

Enjoy your time with your baby.