As you enjoy the excitement of becoming a mom-to-be and indulge in baby shopping, you may also have several questions about the journey ahead. If you are a working woman, your first concern may be what's in store for your career.There are many factors to consider, such as whether you want to continue working, switch from a full-time job to a part-time one, or find a balance between work and motherhood.Let's focus on the most pressing issue: maternity leave.Every working woman in India is entitled to maternity leave. In India, the Maternity Benefit Act 1961 governs to protect the dignity of motherhood by providing for the full and healthy maintenance of women and her child when she is not working.What is maternity leave?Maternity leave is the period of absence from work that a woman takes before and after giving birth to a child, so that she can rest and recover after childbirth, and ensure the health and well-being of both herself and her offspring.In India, the Maternity Benefit Act 1961 provides for six months of maternity leave and other medical benefits to female employees, with a guarantee to return to work.Who is eligible for maternity leave in India?All women who work in any government or private organisation are entitled to maternity leave in India, as long as she has worked for her employer for at least 80 days in the 12 months preceding her expected date of delivery. The following are women are eligible in India: Pregnant women Women adopting a child Women who experience a miscarriage Surrogate or commissioning mothersSalary during maternity leaveYou are entitled to your full salary during maternity leave. Discrimination or termination based solely on your pregnancy or childbirth is prohibited by law, and your employer cannot hire someone to replace you during your leave.How many leaves can a woman take?For first- and second-time mothers, the duration of paid maternity leave has been increased to 26 weeks, under the Maternity Benefit Amendment Act. Women can avail of this maternity leave extension up to a maximum of eight weeks before the expected delivery date, and the remaining time can be availed after childbirth.For mothers having their third child, the duration of paid maternity leave is 12 weeks, six weeks before and six weeks after the expected date of delivery.For mothers who are having their baby via surrogacy or adopting a child below the age of three months, maternity leave of 12 weeks is available.In the case of a miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy, leave of up to six weeks is permitted.How can one apply for maternity leave?Each company has its own procedure for applying for leave. First, discuss it with your immediate supervisor, and then it speak with your HR (human resources) department to understand the process.Can one take maternity leave earlier?Although the law specifies that maternity benefits can only be availed eight weeks before the delivery date, it may be possible to take leave earlier or work part-time, depending on your health and your relationship with your employer.Maternity leave benefits in IndiaThe following are the benefits available to women during maternity leave in India: Monetary Benefits: Every woman is entitled to receive maternity benefits equal to the average daily wage for the entire duration of her absence, including before and after delivery. Nursing Breaks: A woman is entitled to two nursing breaks during her workday until the child reaches 15 months old, in addition to her regular rest breaks. Creche Facility: Establishments with over 50 employees need to provide a creche facility for the child. The mother is entitled to four visits per day, which includes her nursing and rest breaks. Work from Home: Introduced in 2017, new mothers are allowed to work from home, if the job profile so permits. The employer and employee can mutually agree on the conditions and duration of the work. Medical Bonus: In case the employer does not provide pre-natal and post-natal care free of cost, the woman is entitled to receive ₹1000 as a medical bonus. Guaranteed Return to Work: After the completion of her maternity leave, a woman is entitled to return to the same position that she held before her maternity leave. Her employer is also required to make arrangements for her to return to work on a date that is mutually agreed upon. If an employer violates this provision, the woman can appeal to the prescribed authority within 60 days of receiving the order.What are the laws on paternity leave?Currently, there is no provision for paternity leave under Indian law. However, for employees in the Government sector, paternity leave of up to 15 days is available. The father can take this leave either seven days before or within six months from the date of the child's delivery.