It is compulsory for women to take two weeks of maternity leave, or four weeks if they work in a factory, following the birth of their baby. This is for health and safety reasons. It is unlawful for an employer to allow a woman to work during her compulsory maternity leave period.
Apart from this initial two or four week period, it is up to you to decide how much maternity leave you want to take.
There is now the possibility of sharing the rest of your leave with your partner, as long as you both qualify for Shared Parental Leave. You can find out more in workSMART's Shared Parental Leave section. Also see SPLASH, a web portal devised by a group of legal advisers and charities, including Working Families and Maternity Action, providing guidance on Shared Parental Leave.