A premature baby, or preemie, is one who is born earlier than usual. There are different levels of prematurity, and generally there is a higher risk of problems the earlier the baby is born.
Sometimes a baby may arrive early without warning, although in some circumstances you may be told before or during your pregnancy that you might be at risk of going into premature labour.
In many cases, the reasons for a premature birth are unknown. However, there are some factors that can increase the risk of prematurity, including hazards in the workplace. Find out more about health and safety.
The risk assessment done by your employer will help to identify any hazards that may affect you and your baby. Your employer should also monitor your working conditions regularly to ensure that you have the best possible environment for a healthy working pregnancy.
Maternity benefits and premature birth
If your baby is premature, and you need to begin your maternity leave before the start of your Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML), you should let your employer know as soon as possible.
If your baby is born before you’ve given your employer notice of when you want your OML to start, you should let them know within 28 days, or as soon as it is practicably possible.
When you contact your employer, you will need to let them know your baby’s date of birth and confirm the date you were first absent from work. You will also need to give your employer a copy of form MAT B1 if you haven’t already done so. This is the maternity certificate that your doctor or midwife gives you.
If your baby is born before your maternity leave begins, your OML starts from the day after your baby’s birth. Find out more about maternity leave.
If your baby is born after you have begun maternity leave but before your due date, you will continue to receive Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) as agreed with your employer.
If your baby is born before you have begun to receive SMP but you have worked enough weeks for your employer to qualify, you will still receive your full SMP. The payment will begin from the day after your baby’s birth. You should inform your employer within three weeks of your baby’s birth if possible.
If your baby is born before or during the qualifying week for entitlement to SMP, you should provide your employer with the following so that SMP may be payable from the day after the birth:
- written evidence (such as your baby’s birth certificate) to show that the reason you were not at work was because of your baby’s birth
- evidence of the date that your baby was due to be born (your doctor or midwife can provide this information by completing Part B of the MAT B1 form).
You should provide your employer with this evidence within three weeks. If that’s not possible, your employer can agree to extend this to no longer than 13 weeks after your baby’s birth.
In normal circumstances, you should have been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks by the 15th week before your baby is due in order to receive SMP. When your baby is born prematurely, your employer should still apply this rule if you would have satisfied it had your baby been born on time.
The period used to calculate your average weekly earnings will be the eight weeks ending with the Saturday before your baby was born.
If your baby is born prematurely, your Maternity Allowance (MA) may still be paid if you fulfil the qualifications. To find out more about maternity allowance, click here.
Returning to work
Depending on how early you give birth and any medical issues your baby has, you may need to spend a lot of time in the neonatal unit. Any health problems that you or your baby have may affect the date of your return to work, or your decision about whether you return at all.
Try to stay in regular communication with your employer while you’re on maternity leave. This will help make your return as smooth as possible. It may help you to consider a request for flexible working when you go back to work.