Guidance for doctors who are pregnant or breastfeeding

This guidance sets out both the legal minimum requirements, and key adjustments that the BMA recommends should be made for pregnant and breastfeeding NHS doctors, upon their request and within a timely manner. In addition, this guidance provides links for further advice and support. 

Updated: Tuesday 9 July 2024
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The purpose of the guidance is to improve the standard of working conditions and experiences for pregnant doctors working for the NHS. Our aim is to educate doctors and their employers about their rights before and after the birth and to provide a helpful blueprint for employers to improve this process.  

Implementing the recommendations set out in this guidance will ensure that pregnant doctors and doctors who have recently given birth are provided the best opportunity to continue working whilst safeguarding their own and their child’s health. Putting the correct measures in place will allow these doctors to have greater autonomy over the process and equip them to make informed decisions about the risks they take and the opportunities to mitigate these risks.  

Rights and recommendations for pregnant doctors - summary

Legal obligations

During your pregnancy

Risk assessments 

  • Your employer should evaluate the hazards faced by women of a childbearing age as part of their overall workplace risk assessment and evaluations. 
     
  • Your employer should conduct a personalised, individual risk assessment that addresses your specific and unique requirements when you tell them you are pregnant, given birth in the last 6 months or breastfeeding. This can include changing your working conditions, schedules, or hours.
     
  • Your employer must periodically reassess and regularly review your individual and personalised risk assessment and implement any required adjustments as you progress in your pregnancy, and in case of notable alterations and changes to the doctor's tasks or work environment.
     
  • To qualify for maternity leave, you must notify your employer of your intention to take maternity leave by or during the 15th week before the Expected Week of Childbirth (EWC) or as soon as reasonably possible thereafter.  
  • You must notify your employer of the fact that you are pregnant, the EWC and the date you would like to start your maternity leave.  If requested by your employer to do so, the notice should be in writing. 

Maternity leave and pay 

  • To claim statutory maternity pay, you must provide your employer with MATB1 certificate of the EWC, which should be given to you by your doctor/midwife at about 20 weeks pregnant. 
  • Notice for SMP must be given at least 28 days before the start of the SMP period or as soon as reasonably possible afterwards. The MATB1 maternity certificate must be given within 21 days of the start of the SMP period or within 13 weeks at the latest. 
Return to work after birth
  • You are legally entitled to a risk assessment upon your return to work after giving birth. This must take place once you have informed your employer you have given birth within the previous 6 months to that date. 

Rest and breastfeeding in the workplace 

  • Before you return to work after maternity leave, you should send your employer written notification that you are breastfeeding. This is so your employer can ensure you return to a healthy, safe, and suitable environment. Your employer must provide a suitable area where you can rest or breastfeed. 

BMA recommendations  

At any time during pregnancy
  • You have the right to request exemption from on-call duties (any duties which require immediate attendance to emergencies), long shifts (>10 hours) and night shifts. 

  • During a pregnancy, there should be an allowance to return to full duties, if requested by you. 
     
  • You should have an absolute right of confidentiality if you need alterations to your employment, especially earlier in the pregnancy. For example, any disclosure of pregnancy should be purely on a need-to-know basis and only with your agreement. 
Breastfeeding
  • You have the right to request exemption from night shifts and long shifts (>10 hours) for as long as you are breastfeeding overnight, as a minimum until the child is one year old. 
     
  • You should be encouraged to take protected breaks to express and/or breastfeed. During these protected breaks, arrangements should be made for any emergency duties to be covered by other doctors. 

Your employer must accept these requests or provide a written explanation for their refusal within two weeks of the request being denied. 

Checklist

  • Check your employer’s maternity leave policy.
  • Ensure you are working for the NHS during the period when maternity pay is calculated. 
  • Work out your maternity pay. 
  • Check the terms of any childcare vouchers you are using in case they impact on your maternity pay. 
  • Set up your antenatal care and notified employer of time off required. 
  • See your Occupational Health advisor at work. 
  • Make sure your employer has given you details of your maternity entitlement in writing before you start maternity leave (very important if you are changing employer). 
  • Check your and your partners’ entitlement to shared parental leave and pay and ensure both your employers are notified of your intention to take SPL if you wish to take it. 
  • Contact IT to ensure your hospital log ins are not deleted. 
  • Contact NHS Email to ensure your email address is not deleted. 
  • Plac an out of office on your emails with a return date. 
  • Before commencing maternity leave discuss keeping in touch days with employer and agree arrangements for them. Keeping in touch days are optional - both you and your employer need to agree to them. 
  • Upon returning to work after maternity leave, discuss with your employer about return to training courses.