If you're entitled to maternity leave and pay, you can choose to start it either:
- from up to 11 weeks before your baby is due
- the day you give birth
You must tell your employer the date you plan to start maternity leave no later than 15 weeks before your baby is due.
After your baby is born, by law you must:
- start your maternity leave (if you have not already)
- take off at least 2 weeks (4 weeks if you work in a factory) – this is known as 'compulsory maternity leave'
- take your maternity leave in one go
Your maternity leave and pay ends when you go back to work.
The rules are different if you use Shared Parental Leave (SPL).
Find out more about Shared Parental Leave
3. Changing the date you start maternity leave
If you want to change the start date of your maternity leave, you must give your employer 28 days' notice, or agree a new date together.
When maternity leave can start early
If you're absent from work
If you're off because of pregnancy-related sickness in the 4 weeks before your baby is due, your maternity leave starts automatically the day after your first day off.
If you're suspended from work because of health and safety reasons, your employer can start your maternity leave from 4 weeks before the week your baby is due. If your baby is due in less than 4 weeks, your maternity leave will start automatically.
If your baby arrives early
If your baby is born earlier than expected or is premature, your maternity leave starts straight away.
You'll need to let your employer know as soon as you can. You can ask your partner, a friend or a family member to do this if you need to.
You do not have to give your employer any formal evidence, but your workplace might have a policy that needs you to contact them as soon as possible.
If your baby is late
If you'd planned to take maternity leave from a specific date
If your baby is late and you had told your employer a specific date you want to start maternity leave, you can still start the leave from that date.
You just need to tell your employer the date when you have given birth so you start compulsory maternity leave from then.
If you'd planned to work up to when your baby is born
If you told your employer you want to start maternity leave the day after your baby's born, you do not need to change anything.
If you want to start your maternity leave early, you can ask your employer.
If you have a partner, their paternity leave starts when the baby is born.
If your contract is due to end
If you have a temporary or fixed-term contract due to end while you're on maternity leave, your employer does not have to renew it.
It's against the law for the reason not to renew it to be your sex, pregnancy or maternity.
You can ask your employer to give you the reason in writing. If you do not think it's fair, you can raise a formal complaint ('grievance').
Find out more about your redundancy rights in our guide to managing redundancy for pregnant employees or those on maternity leave.
If there's a stillbirth or your baby dies
You still get maternity leave and pay if:
- your baby is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy
- your baby only lives for a short time after birth at any stage of pregnancy
If you're eligible for parental bereavement leave and pay, you have the right to take this after you finish your maternity leave.
You'll need to tell your employer as soon as you can about the death. You can ask your partner, a friend or a family member to do this if you need to.
You do not have to give your employer any formal evidence, but your workplace might have a policy that needs you to contact them as soon as you can.
The legal name for the time off is 'statutory maternity leave'. If you’re not comfortable calling it 'maternity leave' try and let your employer know so they can support you. Employers should be sensitive to your preference and be led by you when having conversations about leave.
You can find help and support following the death of a baby before, during or shortly after birth from:
If there's a miscarriage
If you have a miscarriage before 24 weeks, you're not entitled to maternity leave and pay.
You do not have to tell your employer you've had a miscarriage. But it's a good idea to tell them, if you feel able to, so they can offer you any support that's available, including time off.
Find out more about what to do after a death
You can also find help and support from the Miscarriage Association.