From bump to baby: understanding your benefits entitlement and financial options

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1. Child benefit

You can get child benefit if you’re responsible for a child under 16 (or under 20 if they stay in certain education courses or training programmes). The current rate is £20.50 for the eldest or only child and £13.55 per child for additional children. It’s usually paid every 4 weeks into your bank account. The claim for child benefit can only be backdated for up to 3 months. So, if you’ve just had a baby, make sure you submit your claim before your baby is 3 months old.

Read more about child benefit on Gov.UK.

2. NHS prescriptions and dental care

These are free while you’re pregnant and until your baby is 1 year old. Children also get free prescriptions until they’re 16.

To claim your free prescriptions, ask your doctor or midwife for Form FW8 and send it to your health authority, who in turn, will send you an exemption certificate that lasts for a year after your due date. If you’re only claiming after your baby is born, you’ll need to fill in Form A in leaflet P11 NHS Prescriptions, which you can get from your doctor or JobCentre Plus.

To claim your free dental care, all you have to do is tick the relevant box on the form provided by your dentist or show your exemption certificate.

3. Healthy start vouchers

Basically… free milk, infant formula, fruit and vegetables, and vitamins. Not everyone qualifies though. You’ll qualify if you’re under 18 and pregnant; otherwise, you’ll need to be at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under 4 and you or your family are on certain benefits (for example, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, etc).

To check if you qualify, visit the NHS Healthy Start website.

4. Tax credits

There are two types of tax credit: child tax credit, which gives financial support for children, and working tax credit, which gives financial support for people in lower-paid jobs. If your household income is more than £26,000 (for a family with one child) or £32,600 (for a family with 2 children), you might not qualify for tax credits. But, whether you can actually get tax credits will depend on your circumstances. Use the tax credit questionnaire and the tax credit calculator as your starting point. If you’re still unsure, call the HMRC Tax Credit Helpline.

If you qualify for working tax credit, you could also get extra tax credits to help with the costs of childcare while you’re working. Read more about childcare and tax credits on Gov.UK.

5. Sure start maternity grant

Sure start maternity grant is a one-off payment of £500 to help towards the costs of having a child. You usually qualify if you’re expecting your first child (or multiple birth and have children already) and you’re on certain benefits (for example, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, etc). You must submit your claim within 11 weeks of your baby’s due date or within 3 months after your baby is born.

Read more about sure start maternity grant on Gov.UK.

6. Childcare

If you’re planning to return to work fairly soon after the birth of your baby (like me), you might want to think in advance about childcare as it can take some time for you to find a satisfactory arrangement. For example, if you want to send your baby to the nursery, you’ll want to start looking from as early as the second trimester; from what I heard, places (at both state and private nurseries) get filled up incredibly quickly. Or maybe, nursery is not an option because you may have a demanding career that requires you to work long hours (again, like me) and you just can’t commit yourself to sending and picking up your baby at a fixed hour each day. In that case, you might want to think about hiring someone to look after your baby at home – a nanny, childminder, or perhaps you have a relative who’s willing to help? And of course, you’ll have to consider the costs – whichever way you do it (unless you have an incredibly supportive and generous relative), childcare is expensive! Be prepared to pay around £150 – £200 a week for it, and that’s a conservative figure according to everyone I spoke to (I’m talking about London, of course).

Here are a few websites you can use as a starting point in your research:

7. Life insurance

Now that you have a baby, you probably should start looking into life insurance (if you don’t already have one). You’ve got to think about your family well-being if something should happen to you. There are quite a number of reputable companies out there; so do your research. In the meantime, you could sign up to a £10,000 free life cover which takes effect from the day you apply until your baby’s first birthday from companies such Post Office. Asda used to offer it as well but I can’t seem to find it on their website now.

8. Junior investment

Once you’ve got your life insurance sorted out, you might also want to start thinking about investing for your child’s future with the Junior Individual Savings Account (Junior ISA), be it a cash Junior ISA or a stocks and shares Junior ISA. You can open an account with any banks, building societies, credit unions, friendly societies and stock brokers.

Read more about Junior ISA on Gov.UK.

9. Useful websites you can (and probably should) refer to:

Maternity and paternity benefits and leave on the NHS’s website and Gov.UK, which contains every possible information you need to know.

PS: If you’re an employee, you might also be interested in this article: “From bump to baby: your rights and entitlements at work”

From bump to baby: your rights and entitlements at work

British Pounds |

1. Decide when to tell your boss

You don’t have to tell your employer until the 15th week before the week your baby is due, but you won’t be able to take time off for antenatal appointments until you’ve told them about your pregnancy. So, if you don’t want to use up your annual leave to go for antenatal care, you might want to tell them from as early as the first trimester or the beginning of the second trimester since that’s when your first appointment usually takes place.

2. Paid time off for antenatal appointments

You’re legally entitled to paid time off for antenatal care, but as I’ve said above, you’d have to tell your employer about your pregnancy from quite early on. Still, it might be worth doing so, considering that the paid time off not only cover medical appointments; it includes antenatal or parenting classes and relaxation sessions as long as they’re recommended by your doctor or midwife. Dads-to-be don’t get this right, I’m afraid.

3. Your health and safety, and protection at work

Once your employer knows about your pregnancy, they have a legal requirement to protect your health and safety at work (if necessary, by offering suitable alternative work). If they can’t do that, they might have to give you time off on full pay, regardless of how long you’ve worked for them. You’re also protected against unfair treatment, discrimination and dismissal, and your employer can’t change your contract terms and conditions without your agreement.

4. Maternity leave

When you tell your employer about your pregnancy (and remember that it can’t be later than 15 weeks before the week your baby is due), you should also tell them when you’d like to start your maternity leave. Your employer will then have 28 days to respond. You’re entitled to 52 weeks (1 year) of maternity leave made up of 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave, regardless of how long you’ve worked for your employer. You can usually start your leave up to the 11th week before the week your baby is due. You don’t have to take the whole 52 weeks if you don’t want to, but you must take at least 2 weeks’ leave (4 if you work in a factory) after your baby is born. If you want to change your return to work date, you must give your employer at least 8 weeks’ notice. Maternity leave doesn’t affect your other employment benefits (for example, pension contribution, private healthcare, etc) – you’ll get them as usual.

Read more about maternity leave on Gov.UK.

5. Statutory maternity pay

Statutory maternity pay is paid for up to 39 weeks. You’ll get 90% of your average weekly earnings before tax for the first 6 weeks and £138.18 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks. It usually starts when you go for your maternity leave. To qualify, you must: (i) earn on average at least £111 a week; (ii) give the correct notice (that is, you must tell your employer about your pregnancy at least 15 weeks before the week your baby is due); (iii) give proof you’re pregnant (get a letter or the MATB1 certificate from your doctor or midwife); and (iv) have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks by the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth.

Read more about maternity pay on Gov.UK and use the maternity entitlement calculator to check your eligibility.

6. Maternity allowance

If you don’t qualify for statutory maternity pay (for example, because you don’t meet one or more of the requirements above, or if you’re self-employed, or if you’ve recently stop working), don’t worry – you might be able to get maternity allowance for 39 weeks instead. To qualify, you must (i) be either employed or self-employed for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before the week your baby is due; and (ii) earning at least £30 a week over any 13-week period. It doesn’t matter if you had different jobs or periods of unemployment during the 66-week period. All you need to do is send a completed MA1 claim form together with your pay slips, MATB1 certificate, and SMP1 form (a form from your employer which basically explains why you’re not qualified to claim statutory maternity pay from them) after you’ve been pregnant for 26 weeks to Jobcentre Plus.

If you’re not employed or self-employed, but you take part in the business of your self-employed spouse or civil partner, you could still get maternity allowance for 14 weeks.

Read more about maternity allowance on Gov.UK and use the maternity entitlement calculator to check your eligibility.

7. Paternity leave and pay

Dads-to-be (or a pregnant woman’s same-sex partner) have the right to 1 or 2 weeks paid ordinary paternity leave and up to 26 weeks’ paid additional paternity leave (but only if the mother returns to work). To qualify for the ordinary paternity leave, you must (i) have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks by the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth; (ii) be employed by your employer up to the date of birth; (iii) earn at least £111 a week; and (iv) give the correct notice (that is, you must tell your employer about the pregnancy at least 15 weeks before the week the baby is due).

It’s a bit different if you’re applying for an additional paternity leave or if you’re adopting a child. Read more about paternity leave and pay on Gov.UK.

8. What happens when you go back to work after your maternity leave?

You’re entitled to return to your original job, but if this is not possible, your employer may arrange for a suitable alternative job. If they can’t offer you a suitable alternative job, you may be entitled to redundancy pay.

You may also be entitled to request for a flexible working arrangement.

9. Useful websites you can (and probably should) refer to:

Maternity and paternity benefits and leave on the NHS’ website, and Pregnant employees’ rights on Gov.UK.

Looking back at the first trimester

“Just found out you’re pregnant and not quite sure what to do next? Why not start with these first trimester essentials?”

Pregnant Woman Thoughts | | mirosh17tatyana/123RF

I kid you not, being pregnant is exhausting. Sure, it’s exciting – you’re bringing another life into this world after all; and sure, there are some magical moments that you’ll never forget, like when you first see your baby on an ultrasound or when you first feel your baby kick. But that doesn’t change the fact that being pregnant is exhausting, both physically and mentally, and the first trimester is the worst (at least for me): that’s when my energy level was at it’s all-time low and my morning sickness was at its prime. If you’re a first time mum-to-be like me, chances are, you’ll also find yourself becoming overwhelmed with the amount of information available about pregnancy.

So, I thought I’d create a list of first trimester essentials based on my personal experience, and I hope it would provide a useful starting point, especially for first time mums-to-be, to get organised.

1. If you haven’t already, start taking your daily folic acid (400mcg) and calcium (10mcg) supplement

These supplements are really important for your baby’s development. Ideally, you should start taking them when you’re trying to conceive, but if you haven’t done so, then start as soon as possible. You can buy them separately, or if you prefer, you can take an all-in-one pregnancy tablet – that way, you can be assured that your body will get all the vitamins it needs. I’m taking Pregnacare, but there are quite a few all-in-one pregnancy tablets out there – just pick the one that you like.

2. Book your first antenatal appointment with your midwife

Get a referral from your GP or if your local hospital has a midwife hotline you can call (mine do), by all means, refer yourself and save the trouble of having to make a trip to the GP. Ideally, you should do this between 8 weeks and 12 weeks as it can take up to 2 weeks for them to give you an appointment (possibly longer if you have to first made an appointment with your GP). At your first antenatal appointment, you’ll be given a record book (that is, your pregnancy notes, which you have to bring to all your subsequent appointments) and a Bounty pack, which contains money-off coupons, a mum-to-be pack voucher you can redeem at Boots, Argos or Asda, and a week-by-week pregnancy guide. Your midwife will take your weight, height, blood and urine sample, check your blood pressure, and calculate your BMI. She’ll also ask you about your medical history, lifestyle, etc, and give you information about eating healthily, exercising, who to call if you have any questions, and where to go in case of an emergency. Although, you won’t be able to see your baby or listen to your baby’s heartbeat at this appointment. If you haven’t heard from the hospital about your dating scan, tell your midwife and she’ll sort it out for you.

3. Follow up on your dating scan appointment

If one week has passed since your first antenatal appointment and you still haven’t heard from the hospital, call the antenatal clinic! I’m glad I did. The first time I called, I was told that they were dealing with a backlog of scans, but my name was on the list and I should receive an appointment letter from them within the next couple of days. One week later, I called them again; this time, they couldn’t find my name on the list. By then, I was almost 15 weeks and anxious. So, I was told to come in the same week. The scan itself lasted about 20 minutes. It was magical – I saw my baby for the first time and saw (not only listened to) its heart beating! Don’t forget to bring some change if you want to buy photos of your baby (mine was £4 each). At the scan also, you’ll be asked if you want to get your baby tested for down syndrome. If you’re too advanced in your pregnancy (like me), you’ll be offered the quadruple blood test instead of the combined test. Either way, you should receive your result within the week (earlier if your baby is in the high risk category).

4. Decide if and when you want to share the good news with friends and family

I’d wait until after you had your first scan, just to be sure that everything is okay. Not to be mean or anything, but sadly, miscarriage is an all too common event, particularly during the first trimester. It happened to me and it happened to some of my friends. That’s why most people prefer to break the news when they’re in the second trimester. Of course, the decision is ultimately yours.

5. Watch what you eat and listen to your body

No alcohol (or if you really must, limit it to no more than 1 or 2 units, once or twice a week). No raw or partially cooked meat, fish, eggs, etc (I think it’s easier to just avoid anything raw and make sure your foods are piping hot; I even grill cold cuts, like ham, etc!). No liver. No pate. No soft cheeses with white rinds. No soft blue cheeses. No unpasteurised milk. No vitamin A. No fish liver oil supplement. No shark, swordfish or marlin. Cut down on fish with high mercury level. Cut down on oily fish. Cut down on caffeine (limit it to 200mg a day). Cut down on foods that are high in sugar, fat, or both.

Other than that, I’d say, listen to your body and eat whatever makes you feel good. For example, certain kinds of food (like, cold sandwiches) make me sick, so, I avoid them; starchy foods, on the other hand, help with my morning sickness and keep my energy level high, so, I eat more of them. Seafood has no effect on me, so, I continue to eat them (despite people telling me that I shouldn’t be eating shellfish – but hey, as long as it’s properly cooked and piping hot, I don’t see why not). For me, there’s really no right or wrong way of eating when you’re pregnant. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I can say this because I had a miscarriage back in April and I did everything ‘right’. Go figure. Oh, and it’s a known myth that you have to eat for two.

6. Check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist before taking any medicine

Certain medicines are not safe for your baby. If you’re not sure, ask. Better be safe than sorry. Paracetamol is fine (I’ve confirmed it with my midwife) – that’s about the only medicine I take ever since I found out I was pregnant.

7. Get a flu jab

Just because there’s a higher chance of developing complications if you get the flu when you’re pregnant. And it’s free, so why not? You don’t have to go to your GP if you don’t want to or if it’s not convenient to do so; I got mine at Boots during my lunch hour and my husband got his at Tesco. Remember to tell them you’re pregnant, otherwise you’ll have to pay.

8. Keep yourself active

Exercise! It’ll help maintain your weight gain, combat fatigue, and prepare you for labour. To be honest, I’d do anything that would help ease labour! Wouldn’t you? Be safe though – this is certainly not the right time to try out some adventure sports! I do yoga once a week and I cycle to work every day. Other kinds of activity that you could try include walking, jogging, and swimming. And don’t forget to do your pelvic muscle exercises daily.

9. Get enough rest

You’ll be exhausted… really exhausted… all the time… I know I am, and I’m in my second trimester. Yes, it’s worst in the first trimester (blame the rapid change of hormones level!), but it never truly goes away. So, rest whenever you can! Lounge in front of the TV, relax, sleep, or get a massage (pure bliss!).

10. Wear something comfortable

Chances are, you’ll feel hotter and you’ll sweat more than usual. So, wear comfortable clothing to stay… well, comfortable.

11. If you smoke, stop!

It’s bad for the baby. Enough said.

12. Take extra care when you clean the house or handle chemicals

My husband freaked out the first time I cleaned the house as a pregnant woman! I had to assure him (Google was my friend) that most cleaning products are safe to use during pregnancy. As far as I know, the only two things that you must absolutely avoid when you’re pregnant are oven cleaners and insects’ killer. Just make sure that when you clean, the room is well ventilated, and wear protective gloves (obviously).

13. Start organising your finances and prepare for your new arrival

It’s never too early to start. In fact, start now to get your hands on amazing bargains. You’d be surprised at how much you could save. Let this post be your guide: “For all those bargain and freebies hunters out there“.

You might also want to start looking into life insurance (if you don’t already have one). Some companies (such as, Asda and Post Office) offer up to £10,000 free life cover for new parents effective from the day you apply until your baby’s first birthday. Let me say it again, it’s free, so you’ve got no excuse!

14. Start looking into antenatal classes

There are NHS-run classes, which are free and held in your local hospital, and there are NCT-run classes, which can be quite expensive and held in a number of your local community centres. The NCT-run classes are supposed to be the Queen of all antenatal classes (at least, that’s what people say). Based on my research online, I decided to sign up for these; I can tell you it’s quite pricey: my husband and I paid £190 for 5x 2 hours classes. But, our first class is not until January 2015, so I can’t tell you yet whether they are worth the price. Nevertheless, start doing some research – apparently, these classes get booked up very quickly (I booked mine back in September). You might also want to start looking into pregnancy yoga. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you the benefits of doing yoga. Even if you’re not a fan of yoga or have never done yoga before, this might be the perfect time to take it up – why pass up something that would help increase your strength, flexibility and muscles endurance needed for childbirth? After all, I thought we’d agreed that we’d do anything that would help ease labour, right?

15. Get dad-to-be involved

It’ll make your journey easier if your partner is aware of and understands what’s going on with your body when you’re pregnant. As I’ve said earlier, being pregnant is exhausting – physically and mentally – so, don’t do it alone! He’s sharing your joy, why not let him share your pain as well? Get him to download your favourite pregnancy apps on his phone or buy him a book. I bought 2 books for my husband: “The Expectant Dad’s Survival Guide: Everything You Need To Know” and “Pregnancy for Men: The Whole Nine Month” – they’re now his bedtime reading; he said they’re not particularly good, but at least, he’s ‘in the know’ and I’m sure he’ll find some of the information useful at some point.

16. Educate yourself about pregnancy, follow your baby development, and talk to other mums-to-be

It has never been easier to do all the above today – there are plenty of great apps you can download, newsletter you can sign up to, websites you can go to, forums you can join and even free books you can order. Here are some of my favourites:

  1. Mobile apps: Baby Centre and Ovia Pregnancy.
  2. Websites: NHS, Baby Centre, Mumsnet , Netmums (one thing I like about Netmums is that you can search for news and events within your locality), and Tommy’s.
  3. Free books: Tommy’s Having a Healthy Pregnancy (they’ll post it to you if you order it from their website), Bounty‘s Pregnancy Guide (which you’ll get at your first antenatal appointment) and Baby Product Guide (included in the Bounty’s mum-to-be pack), Boots’ Bump, Birth and Baby catalogue (you can get this in store), and Babies R Us catalogue (you can order this online). I know the last two are catalogues, but they are pretty good and there are quite a few money-off coupons in there.
  4. Forums: Baby Centre Community and Birth Clubs (where you can connect with other mums-to-be, including those due in the same month as you, and share your experiences).
  5. Newsletters: NHS, Baby Centre, and Bounty (which includes weekly offers on maternity and baby products).

17. Call your midwife if you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms or if you’re just feeling anxious generally

I suppose that’s it. I hope you find this post useful.