Here we look at how to make the transition to maternity leave as smooth and stress-free as possible.
Many different feelings can surface in the lead up to maternity leave.
Some women feel happy about taking a break from work and eager for a new chapter to begin, while others are apprehensive about leaving a career they’ve worked hard to establish and anxious about being forgotten.
Lots of women say they feel torn between wanting to care for their family while also trying to hold onto their career.
Acknowledging your anxieties
Worries about going on maternity leave are natural – it’s a big change in your life and daily routine so of course it can be unsettling.
Women may worry they’ll be overlooked by bosses or sidelined by colleagues because they’ll be away. It’s also common to worry that the replacement will be better at the job or more popular than you.
And some women fear they’ll be isolated while caring for a baby on their own and away from adult company.
Sarah Mackay, Branch Coordinator for NCT Newbury & District is mum to David and Eilidh and works as Head of Marketing for a manufacturing company.
She says: ‘Being a career minded woman, both maternity periods were a time of anxiety for me.’
‘Would I be able to leave and return to a department still in one piece? Would there still be a place for me in the company? Would the company be recognisable as the one that I left?’
Some women may also worry that while on maternity leave they’ll lose their skills and struggle to get back up to speed when, or if, they return to work.
They may also feel anxious that their career progression will suffer if they return doing reduced hours.
Fiona Doyle, Branch Coordinator for NCT Haringey and mum to Ciara, worked as a secondary school English teacher before going on maternity leave.
She says: ‘I loved my job and worked hard. But I was made to feel by management that I was letting people down by taking a year off.’
She added: ‘In hindsight, I realise I was treated unfairly, but I felt vulnerable and emotional during pregnancy so I didn’t do anything about it.’
Looking forward to the future
On the other hand, some mums-to-be relish the thought of maternity leave and feel relieved about the break from deadlines, physical work, mundane and repetitive work, office politics or commuting.
Emma Blair, is a member of Oxted and Caterham NCT branch and mum to Penelope. She worked in the civil service.
She says. ‘I was getting bored with my role, so I felt like I could happily walk away from my workplace and never come back! I felt being a mum was, and is, a far more important job.’
Even if you have mixed feelings about maternity leave, try to be positive and look towards the future and the special time ahead with your new baby.
There are also lots of ways to help you find the right balance between work and family life, such as different hours or Shared Parental Leave.
If you feel you are being treated unfairly because of your pregnancy, free legal advice and support is available from the Working Families helpline on 0300 012 0312, or email advice@ workingfamilies.org.uk.
It's all about preparation
If you have worries, talk them through with your partner, family, friends, trusted colleagues, or your boss.
However you’re feeling about maternity leave, there are some things you can do to make the transition slightly easier.
It can be beneficial to start preparing for and thinking about maternity leave early on in your pregnancy, so you can process your thoughts and work out how to handle the transition.
Think about how much leave you’d like – or can afford – to take. Discuss paternity leave, Shared Parental Leave and childcare options with your partner and find out what benefits both your employers offer parents.
While it’s good to think about all of this early on, you can change your mind and you don’t have to make a formal decision on anything until after your baby has arrived and you’ve had time to adjust.
It’s always worth acknowledging that this is a time of change for your employer as well as for you.
They may not have much experience of handling maternity leave, so try to work together and remember that good communication is key.
Some women say being proactive makes the transition easier – including coming up with ideas for your maternity cover, initiating meetings to discuss the future and working on handover or back to work plans.
It’s a good idea to reassure your employer of your continued professionalism and commitment when you can.
Also try to handle your maternity leave sensitively and professionally with colleagues – they may have concerns about the impact on their workload and need reassurance.
Covering your role
There are many different options for maternity cover while you’re away, including another person undertaking your role temporarily, your responsibilities being shared between several colleagues with them being given appropriate additional support, or your job being outsourced to a contractor or freelancer.
Be prepared to be flexible and open-minded, even if you don’t agree with the maternity cover plan that’s suggested.
Ultimately your boss has to cover your role in the way they feel is in the best interests of the organisation.
When interacting with your maternity cover, try to see them as a member of the team and remember you’re all working towards a common goal, rather than feeling in competition with them or intimidated by them.
Staying in touch
You have the option of taking up to 10 Keeping in Touch (KIT) days. Many women say these days make it easier to settle in once they return to work.
When you’re on maternity leave, there are lots of things you can do to keep in-the-loop with work if you want to.
You may want to stay in contact with your boss or colleagues by email or phone informally so you don’t feel out of the picture.
Sarah says: ‘I visited the office to show off my gorgeous new bundles, took full advantage of my KIT days and met my boss for impromptu catch ups, as well as keeping in touch with my office friends.’
She said this helped her to still feel in touch and part of the team.
Doing what's right for you
Everyone is different and they’ll have different emotions about maternity leave.
It can help to remember that while on maternity leave with your baby you won’t be losing skills – instead you’ll be gaining new ones like multi-tasking, creative time-management and resourcefulness.
And, if you’re feeling insecure, remind yourself of your career achievements to date.
Sarah says: ‘Being a mum brought a new dimension to my work life. I could see the job, and the way I did it, with a new perspective.’
As difficult as it may sound, relax and try to enjoy this new chapter of your life!
Maternity Policy: what you need to know
All employees are entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave, regardless of length of service or hours worked. This is divided into two halves:
- The first 26 weeks is called Ordinary Maternity leave (OML).
- The second 26 weeks is called Additional Maternity Leave (AML).
You need to tell your employer you’re pregnant by the end of the 15th week before baby is due if you wish to take maternity leave. You’ll need to notify them in writing of the date you want to start your leave and provide proof of pregnancy (usually a MAT B1 certificate signed by your midwife or doctor).
You may start your maternity leave and pay any time from 11 weeks before baby is due. You can work right up to the birth if you wish. You’re legally obliged to take two weeks’ leave after you’ve given birth (four weeks if you work in a factory).
If you’re off work with a pregnancy-related absence during the last four weeks before your baby is due, your employer can insist you start your maternity leave.
The amount of money you’re paid while on maternity leave will depend on your entitlement to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance (MA). Your employer may also offer extra maternity benefits above the legal minimum. Check your contact, employee handbook or ask HR.
You may work for up to 10 days without bringing maternity leave to an end or losing SMP or MA. These days are known as ‘Keeping in Touch’ days (KIT days ) and can only happen if both you and your employer want them. You will be paid for KIT days, so speak to your employer or HR about this.
Your holiday continues to accrue over the maternity leave period with the amount depending on your employment contract.
If you plan to return to work during the first 26 weeks (OML) you have the right to return to the job you did before maternity leave. If you’re returning after this date (AML) you usually have the right to return to the same job, but you may be asked to return to a similar role under the same terms and conditions.
if you plan to return to work before the end of your statutory entitlement of 52 weeks’ leave you need to provide eight weeks’ formal notice to your employer.
You and your partner can share up to 50 of your 52 weeks’ leave. This is known as Shared Parental Leave.