Maternity leave – and all its ins and outs – can be bewildering. Pregnancy, sleep deprivation, hormones and excitement don’t necessarily help you get your head around it either. We take a look at ways you can plan your maternity leave and what you need to consider in simple and easy to digest terms.
Know Your Rights
It’s impossible to plan for something when you don’t truly understand it. In terms of maternity leave, this means you need to be clear about two key things: your leave your pay entitlements.
Firstly you need to establish how long your maternity leave may be. Statutory Maternity Leave is 52 weeks and consists of two parts: Ordinary Maternity Leave and Additional Maternity Leave. You don’t have to take it all but you must take 2 weeks’ leave after your baby is born. You may also be able to share some of your leave (except the first 2 weeks) as Shared Parental Leave.
It’s difficult to know how to plan for something as momentous as having a baby when you haven’t yet experienced it. How do you know how much leave you will want or be able to take? The good news is that as long as you give 8 weeks’ notice you can change your mind if necessary. For example, you may initially think you will want to take the full 52 weeks, but due to financial reasons change to returning to work after 26 weeks.
Next you need to consider how much maternity pay you will get. This enables you to budget and plan appropriately. If you are employed then you could be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay which is paid at 90% of your Average Weekly Earnings (AWE) for the first 6 weeks and then £140.98 or 90% of AWE for the remaining 33 weeks (whichever is the lowest). To work out how much you may be entitled to use this calculator. You should also check your employer’s maternity pay policy as they may pay more. If you are self-employed then you may be entitled to maternity allowance.
It’s also worth noting that there are various other benefits and entitlements when you’re planning your maternity leave. These include such things as the right to request flexible working and free prescriptions. See here for more information.
What else do you need to consider
Once you know your leave and pay entitlements you then need to consider your household finances. In the first year of having a child, you can expect to spend an average of £11,498. Therefore, even with maternity pay or allowance, you need to financially prepare for maternity leave.
It is therefore important to sit down and work out your budget for your maternity leave, based on the income you’ll have. You can then work out any shortfall and work out how to manage this with savings or other options.
Also, work out your initial costs of setting up for baby. You’ll likely need to factor in costs of items such as car seats, pushchairs and clothing. We have created a baby budget planner to help you with this.
Beyond the finances of maternity leave
With a more accurate picture of the financial state of play for during maternity leave, you can consider what else needs planning. Importantly, you need to consider your emotional and support needs. Having a baby is a huge change, and maternity leave is considerably different from anything else you’ve done before. It’s worth considering in advance how to meet the needs of not just baby, but your own needs too. This may include working out which baby groups to join so that you can meet other parents in your position, or how to prioritise your health and fitness.
You’ll also need to consider your career and the long-term impact of maternity leave. Your employment rights are protected and it’s worth taking advantage of Keeping in Touch (KIT) days to ensure you stay ‘in the picture’ at the level you want.
Maternity leave is also the time to consider the longer terms needs and requirements of your family. It’s time to start considering how you will manage childcare if, and when, you return to work. Childcare can take time to organise, as well as a phased period of your baby settling, so start planning early.
Enjoy your baby
Maternity leave is a unique and precious time to have with your child. Making the most of it requires a little planning. Then the focus can be on adjusting to life as a new family unit. Don’t forget, at the planning stage you should also consider how to squirrel away some pennies for your child’s future.