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Maternity and paternity benefits and leave

This page lists the benefits you're entitled to when you're pregnant, and has information on maternity, paternity and shared parental leave.

It also lists other benefits you might be able to receive, depending on your circumstances.

Leave and time off

When you're pregnant, you're entitled to up to a year of maternity leave.  

Statutory Maternity Leave

If you are employed and pregnant, you are entitled to 52 weeks (1 year) of maternity leave, no matter how long you've worked for your employer.

This is made up of 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave.

You have a range of rights during this period and can also request that your employer provides flexible working arrangements if you decide to return to work at the end of your leave.

Your employment terms (for example, your pension contributions) are protected while you're on Statutory Maternity Leave.

If you're made redundant while on Statutory Maternity Leave, you also have extra rights.

Further information

Working when pregnant

If you're pregnant, your employer must protect your health and safety, and you may have the right to paid time off for antenatal care. You're also protected against unfair treatment.  

If you enjoy your work and like the people you work with, you may have mixed feelings when you go on maternity leave.

Try to make the most of these few weeks before your baby is born. It's also a good opportunity to make some new friends.

You may make new pregnant friends you want to keep in touch with at antenatal classes, or you may get to know more people living close by.

Further information

Planning childcare

You may have decided that you're going to spend some time at home with your baby, or you may be planning to return to work, either full time or part time, fairly soon after the birth.

If you plan to go back to work, start thinking in advance about who will look after your baby.

It's not always easy to make childcare arrangements, and it may take you some time.

You may have a relative who's willing to look after your child. If not, contact the Family Information Service at your local authority for a list of registered childminders and nurseries in your area.

You may also want to think about organising care in your own home, either on your own or sharing with other parents.

Care in your own home does not need to be registered, but make sure your carer is experienced and trained to care for babies.

Further information

Returning to work after Statutory Maternity Leave

You have employment rights and responsibilities when you go back to work. 

Make sure you know what these are and what to do if you have any problems or you're denied your rights.

Requesting flexible working

All employees are entitled to request a flexible working pattern.

Further information

Paternity Leave

If you're a father-to-be or the partner of someone who is pregnant (or who is adopting or having a baby through surrogacy) – including same-sex partner – you could have the right to paternity leave.

You may be eligible for:

  • 1 or 2 weeks' paid Paternity Leave
  • Paternity Pay
  • Shared Parental Leave and Pay

Further information

Shared Parental Leave

You may be eligible to share parental leave and pay with your partner.

Shared Parental Leave is designed to give parents the flexibility to decide when to return to work and allow families to spend time together in the early stages of a child's life.

  • Leave and pay can be shared following the first 2 weeks after your baby's birth. This means up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay can be shared.
  • You can take all of your Shared Parental Leave in one go, or you can take it in blocks separated by periods of work in between.
  • Shared Parental Leave can be taken by both parents at the same time so you and your partner can spend time at home together with your baby.

Further information

Benefits if you're pregnant

There are benefits and financial help if you're pregnant, whether you're employed or not.

Free NHS prescriptions and dental care

If you're pregnant or you've had a baby in the past 12 months, you're entitled to:

  • free NHS prescriptions, if you have a valid maternity exemption (MATEX) certificate
  • free NHS dental treatment, if you have a valid MATEX certificate, MatB1 certificate, notification of birth form or birth certificate – the treatments needs to have started while you were pregnant or within 12 months of your baby's birth

If you have a miscarriage or stillbirth you can continue to use your MATEX for free NHS prescriptions and free NHS dental treatment until it expires. You can also use a stillbirth certificate to get free NHS dental treatment for 12 months after your due date.

To claim free NHS prescriptions, ask a healthcare professional, for example, a doctor, nurse, midwife or health visitor. They will help you make a paper or digital application.

With a digital application, you'll get your certificate by email straight away. Otherwise, you'll get a paper MATEX certificate in the post.

The MATEX certificate lasts for 12 months after your due date. If your baby is born early, you can continue to use the certificate until it expires. If your baby is born late, you can apply for an extension.

If you apply after your baby is born, your exemption certificate will last for 12 months after the date of your baby's birth.

Further information

Healthy Start

You can get free milk, infant formula, vitamins, fruit and vegetables if you're receiving certain benefits or if you're under 18.

Further information

Healthy Start: help to buy food and milk

Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits

Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits are benefits the government use to help top up your earnings if you have a low paid job.

Working Tax Credits are being replaced by Universal Credit. If you're making a new claim you now have to apply for Universal Credit instead of Working Tax Credit.

Further information

Statutory Maternity Pay

A regular payment from your employer, paid in the same way as your usual wages, to help you take time off (maternity leave) before and after your baby is born.

Further information

GOV.UK: Maternity Pay and leave

Maternity Allowance

If you're pregnant or have a new baby but do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay, you might be able to claim Maternity Allowance through Jobcentre Plus.

Further information

Statutory Paternity Pay

If your wife, partner (including same-sex partner) or civil partner gives birth, adopts a child, or has a child through surrogacy, you may be able to claim Statutory Paternity Pay to help you take time off work to look after the child.

Find out more about paternity pay and leave on GOV.UK, including when you need to let your employer know that you're expecting.

Statutory Adoption Pay

A regular payment from your employer, paid in the same way as your usual wages, to help you take time off if you adopt a child.

Find out more about adoption pay and leave on GOV.UK, including how and when to let your employer know.

Other financial help

Sure Start Maternity Grant

If you're on a low income and you or your partner get certain benefits or tax credits you may qualify for this one-off payment.

Further information

GOV.UK: Sure Start Maternity Grant

New Style Jobseeker's Allowance

New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance is a benefit you can apply for to help you when you are looking for work.

People are no longer able to apply for the ‘old style’ of Jobseeker’s Allowance (if you are currently receiving this benefit, you’ll keep getting payments until your claim ends).

Depending on your circumstances, you may also be entitled to apply for Universal Credit at the same time, or instead of the New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Further information

New Style Employment and Support Allowance

New Style Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit you can apply for if you are under state pension age.

You also need to have both:

  • worked as an employee or have been self-employed
  • paid enough National Insurance contributions, usually in the last 2 to 3 years - National Insurance credits also count

You cannot get New Style ESA if you claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Statutory Sick Pay.

You might be able to get Universal Credit at the same time or instead of New Style ESA.

Further information

Housing Benefit

Housing Benefit can help you pay your rent if you're unemployed, on a low income or claiming benefits. It's being replaced by Universal Credit.

You can make a new claim for Housing Benefit if you're in supported, sheltered or temporary housing.

Further information

Support for Mortgage Interest

You can apply for a loan to help with mortgage interest repayments if you receive certain benefits. You’ll have to repay the loan with interest when you sell your home.

Further information

Council Tax Reduction

You might be eligible for help with paying your council tax if your income is low or you receive certain benefits.

Further information

Help with transport costs to hospital

You might be able to get help from the Healthcare Travel Costs Scheme, depending on your circumstances.

Further information

Where to get help and support

You should get advice on benefits as soon as you find out you're pregnant. Benefits have to be claimed on different forms, from different offices, depending on what you're claiming. 

There are lots of voluntary organisations that are happy to help. Ask them for advice or get an opinion.

  • Some local authorities have welfare rights officers – phone your social services department and ask.
  • Some voluntary organisations give information and advice on benefits and rights at work – try Gingerbread and Working Families.
  • For advice on your rights at work, call ACAS on 0300 123 1100.
  • If you're 19 or under, you can get advice on work from the National Careers Service on 0800 100 900.

Page last reviewed: 23 May 2024
Next review due: 23 May 2027