Having a baby is a time of great joy, but it can also be a time of great expense, and stress – especially if you don’t fully understand your rights as a working mother or father-to-be.

On top of the issues you face childproofing your home ready for your new arrival, you are probably worrying about what exactly you are entitled to with regards to time off to be with your new baby. Many new mothers return to work earlier then they need to because their entitlement to maternity leave hasn’t been explained to them properly, likewise, many new fathers don’t have the time off with their baby that they could – again due to poor understanding of their rights under the law.

Unlike other forms of leave, that may be dependant of how long you have worked for a specific company, maternity leave is set at 52 weeks regardless of how long you have worked for the company. This is split into two separate forms of maternity leave, 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave (or OML as it can be referred to) and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave, or AML.

Although the length of time you are entitled to disregards how long you have worked for a company, the rate at which you are paid is however, dependant on this as well as other factors.

You should inform your employer that you are expecting a baby as soon as you know to allow them enough time to make the necessary arrangements to cover your maternity leave. They will ask you for a MAT B1 certificate which will be given by your doctor or midwife, and confirms your pregnancy and the expected date of delivery. Your employer then has 28 days to tell you what you are entitled to.

You are entitled to start your maternity leave up to 4 weeks early if you are ill due to your pregnancy, but you cannot start it earlier then that unless there is a medical condition that means you cannot attend work.

During your maternity leave, you are allowed to work for up to 10 days so you can keep up to date with anything relevant to your job to help you prepare for your return to work. Providing your employer is happy for you to do this, your normal rate of pay will apply.

Unlike maternity leave, the length of paternity leave is determined by how long you have been with your employer. Paternity leave isn’t just available to the biological father, but also to the husband or partner of the child’s mother and if you are adopting, then the husband or partner of the child’s adoptive mother.

You must be in a job where you earn at least the amount to make you eligible for national insurance contributions and be taking the time off to care for the new arrival, or support the mother to qualify. You can take up to a fortnight’s paternity leave any time after the baby is born, or after the first day of the week that the baby is expected. Your right to statutory paternity leave usually ends on the 56th day after the child’s birth. However long you decide to take, it can only be taken in a continuous block and not split up into single days.

Different companies may offer other terms regarding paternity leave, but you are entitled to choose statutory paternity leave over their own if this better suits your needs.

Paternity leave rights also apply to same sex couples, providing they meet the qualifying criteria outlined above. Statutory paternity leave doesn’t apply to people who are self employed. If you meet the criteria, but are refused paternity leave, you should contact Acas or your local Citizens Advice Bureau for help, and they in turn may suggest you approach a employment solicitor to assist you.