Maternity Leave in the UK: The Real Story

The first thing everyone said when I told them I was pregnant and moving to the UK was, “Oh so the baby will be a UK citizen!” Sadly, the UK does not have birthright citizenship.

The second thing (or the first if I was talking with another pregnant lady in the US) was, “Oh don’t you get a long [paid] maternity leave?”

And the answer for me/us is No. Definitely no.

First I’ll explain my  understanding of the UK maternity leave laws, and then my situation.

Generally speaking, women in the UK are allowed 26 weeks of leave plus an additional 26 weeks (making a full year). For the first 26 weeks, their employer is required to keep the same job for them; if they take longer than that 6 months, the employer is required to keep an equivalent position open for the mother (so not the same job necessarily, but an equal job).

The good news is that [almost] everyone gets some form of maternity leave pay courtesy of the government, making this the biggest difference as compared to the US where only 12% of women have access to paid paternal leave.


Wouldn’t you want to spend time with this nugget? This is her passport photo. Yes really.

In the UK, provided you “have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks up to the ‘qualifying week’ – the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth”, you are eligible for:Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)  for up to 39 weeks. SMP includes:

  • 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks
  • £139.58 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks

Essentially you get some money for up to a year post-birth.

We found the eligibility rule confusing. What the heck does that phrase “26 weeks prior to 15 weeks to the expected birth” mean? In retrospect it seems obvious to me, but it means you basically have to have been working in the UK since you conceived the baby. 15 weeks prior to the expected birth is 25 weeks pregnant. So even more than that – you have to be working since the week before you were pregnant (or technically, the first day of your last period) in order to have achieved working for 26 weeks prior to the deadline.

The cool thing about this is that you don’t have to be working for the same employer, job, or even working full time at one job (it could be more than one job adding up to the requisite hours) to qualify for maternity benefits. Because it’s government based and not employer-based, as long as you’re working in the UK, you’re good. You don’t have to stay with an employer just because you want to qualify for maternity benefits! Or healthcare for that matter! This is a definite plus.

However, I was 12.5 weeks pregnant when I started working for my new employer, so I didn’t qualify for SMP even though I’m paying into the system, and will be paying into it for several years post-baby.

Often employers will have additional benefits they give to mothers or fathers… but I don’t qualify for most of those either, not that I blame them. Heck, I’ve only been here 8 months.

But wait! If you don’t qualify for SMP, he UK also offers Maternity Allowance! What a country – £139 per week for 14 weeks as long as you have worked full time for 26 weeks of your pregnancy. And because Vivian was 1 week late, and I worked up to my due date, I would have worked for exactly 26 weeks!Hurrah!

Alas, no. The government bases your eligibility for Maternity Allowance on the expected week of birth, not the actual week of birth. Which is stupid. Because I worked up until the end.

The last possibility is essentially unemployment benefits… but I’m still employed, so no dice.

So here we are, 11 weeks into unpaid leave. I can’t use sick time, and technically can’t use vacation days (or holidays) as they’re known (though I do continue to accrue them and they’re paid out upon my return).


My check-in day, or Keep In Touch day. Laptop in my lap baby between my sweat panted legs.

HOWEVER (you knew there was something coming), the UK does allow up to 10 “check-in” days that mothers can take without sacrificing their maternity leave time or benefits. Essentially you can work up to 10 days while on leave. For moms taking 6+ months (which is most of them), this makes a lot of sense – it allows them to stay connected and get compensated for it. I will have 5 or 6 check-in days, which I have used to interview candidates for a few open roles, check email, talk to the team, and reduce the size of my inbox. They’re helpful for everyone – my team, our bank account, my sanity upon returning…

It is going to be a joyous 13 weeks of minimal pay… but luckily enough, we were able to save before we moved here as this is what we expected. And unlike most people in the world, I get to have a job to go back to, and a leave that I can spend with my husband! The whole time!

Most women in the UK take 6 months at minimum, so there is a lot of shock and awe about my “short” leave, but it worked out wonderfully with Max. We are so so so lucky that T (husband) stays home to take care of the kids. It makes life so pleasant for all of us, at least as pleasant as it can be until we’re billionaires sipping margaritas by the side of our pools – ok beer, let’s be real.

Hopefully this demystifies some of the lovely benefits of European living! Or what would be lovely. Actually it was quite lovely. See photos below.


Keeping it cool on one of our many walks.



sewing with toddler

Sewing was my “me” time on maternity leave. And by “me”, I mean “me including a pin-wielding-toddler” time.


The morning I went back to work. The lucky kids get to hang out with their dad!




  1. shawnalander · April 25, 2016

    What an interesting and informative post! I’m from the states, and I always lament our lack of maternity leave. Their laws still make more sense to me 😛 What took you to the UK?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Casey F. · April 26, 2016

      My job! I had a fantastic opportunity, and my husband was game to come along thank goodness. 🙂


  2. Susan · April 26, 2016

    Her passport photo is priceless- like “What the heck?”

    Liked by 1 person

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