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How much maternity leave should I take?

Maternity leave is an important time to recover physically from birth and to adjust to life with a newborn. Take your time in deciding how much maternity leave you will need as there are many different factors you need to take into consideration. You need to know what you are entitled to legally and what your employer’s policies are. You need to discuss with your partner what will suit you best as a family and what is feasible financially. You also need to take into consideration what your child care options are when you decide to return to work.
In Ireland all women are entitled to maternity leave, regardless of how long they have been with the company, how many hours they work or if they are casual workers. You are entitled to 26 weeks’ maternity leave as well as an additional 16 weeks unpaid leave. At least 2 of these weeks must be taken before the end of the week your baby is expected. At least 4 weeks must be taken after the birth of your baby. You can decide how you wish to take the remaining weeks however most women opt to take the remaining weeks after the birth of their baby.
Employers are not obliged to pay women on maternity leave. You may qualify for Maternity Benefit which is a Department of Social Protection payment when you have sufficient PRSI contributions. However an employee’s contract could provide for additional rights to payment during maternity leave.
Before deciding how much maternity leave you wish to take, take the following steps:
  • Read through your employer's policies or have a chat with your employer to see how much (if any) paid maternity leave you will receive.
  • Speak with other working mums to see what length of maternity leave worked for them. Ask what they would've done differently and how they stayed connected to work during their leave.
  • Examine your budget to see how much leave you can afford to take.
  • Discuss leave plans with your partner or family to see if they would be able to take care of the baby if you decide to return to work early.
  • Explore child care options for your return to work and get on child care wait lists, if necessary.
  • If you have to return to work but feel that you need more time at home, discuss with your employer options such as working part-time or working from home when your maternity leave ends. These options might appeal to you if you cannot afford to take as long a leave as you would like.
Deciding on maternity leave is not just down to your legal rights and your budget. There are other factors to consider before deciding how much time off you will need. Here are a few tips to help you decide on how much maternity leave you should take:
  • Most new mums require 6 weeks to recover physically from giving birth. Others who might have had a cesarean or problems during their labour may take longer to recover. Depending on your job, it may even be dangerous to return to work too soon. If your job is physically demanding it might be dangerous to return to work too early.
  • The longer you remain on maternity leave, the less sleep-deprived you will be when you return to work. It may take 2 or 3 months before you get even 4-hour stretches of sleep at night, depending on your baby. Some babies will sleep for 5 or 6 hours at a time when they're 4 months old - some don't do so until 8 months or later.
  • Remember it's much easier to cut short maternity leave than to extend it. You may want to overestimate how much leave you want, in case you end up needing more than you think.
  • Giving birth can be unpredictable and so you must be prepared should things not go to plan. You don't know what your health or the baby's health will be like after the birth. If your baby has health problems you do not want to be worrying about asking for more time off work. 
  • You may not be sure about whether or not you want to return to work but do not discuss this with you employer or colleagues. Your financial situation may change in the future or you may simply decide that you would rather continue to work, so it’s best to keep your options open.

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