How Long Is Maternity Leave in Canada: 12 vs 18 Months?

We are very lucky to have maternity leave in Canada: a 12-month parental leave or 18 month parental leave.  Whether you’re taking maternity leave in Ontario, maternity leave in Alberta, maternity leave in Manitoba, or maternity leave in British Columbia, we all have the same access to 12 months or 18 months of parental leave.  Here’s a  detailed post to help you decide whether you should take the 12 or 18 month leave and which is better financially and how to apply for maternity or parental leave in Canada.

Maternity Leave Canada 12 vs 18 months of Leave

Updated July 2023.

How Long is Maternity Leave in Canada?

Should you pick 12 vs 18 months of maternity leave?

I was so glad I applied for maternity leave and had access to it.  I was sleep deprived and completely irritable and irrational.  My poor husband had to bear the brunt of my irritability.  I remember thinking that I would not be productive at work at all if I were to go back to work before 6 months because of the sleep deprivation.

After my son turned 1 year old, I think I was ready to go back to work and have a change in routine other than nap, eat, play, and repeat.  I was tired of the Motherhood Penalty and my low parental leave income and trying to save money on a low income.

Related:  A Tale of 4 Maternity Leaves:  Comparison Between 4 Countries

Maternity Leave in Canada 2023

We are fortunate in Canada to have access to this 12 or 18 month maternity leave.  Here are the differences between the US and Canadian maternity leaves according to Investopedia.

When did the 18 month maternity leave start?

In 2017, the Liberal government announced that they would add another option for parents taking leave after the birth of their baby, the extended 18-month parental leave.  This new policy didn’t start until 2018, and I had baby GYM in 2017.

In the middle of your parental leave, can you switch from 12 to 18 months maternity leave?

In other words, I was thinking:  Can I extend my maternity leave after 52 weeks?

At first, I was really excited about the new policy, firstly because I thought I could extend my 12 months leave to 18 months (no, this was not the case, you have to decide if you want to do 12 months or 18 months before you go on leave), and secondly I thought it would be the same amount of money over 18 months.

However, after looking into it further, I found out that it is the same amount of employment insurance (EI) money but spread out over 18 months instead of 12 months.

I know actually a number of moms-to-be that are planning to take the 18 months parental leave.  I would say the percentage of moms to be that I know who are planning to take the extended 18-month leave is around 30%.  That being said, I don’t socialize much lol so my sample size is small and likely, not accurate.

Both of the 12 and 18-month parental leave options start off with the 15-week maternity leave.  After the 15-week maternity leave is finished, the parental leave kicks on and this can be either 35 weeks (12 months) or 61 weeks (18 months).

Here’s how the standard parental benefits (12 months maternity leave) and the extended parental benefits (18 months maternity leave) work and which one would make more financial sense for your family.

The 12 Month Maternity Leave in Canada

The 12-month maternity leave/ parental leave is also called standard parental benefits.  For a 12 month leave, employment insurance will pay you 55 per cent of your average insurable weekly earnings if you qualify.

To qualify, you’ll have had to work 600 insurable hours and also be hit with a 40% decrease in income during your leave.  EI payments will be paid for 15 weeks for maternity leave and 35 weeks for parental leave (which can be shared between the parents).

Because of COVID, the government made some special changes in 2020. Instead of 600 hours of work, you only need 120 insured hours to qualify for benefits because you will receive a one-time credit of 480 insured hours to help you meet the required 600 insured hours of work.

To figure out how much you will get over the course of your maternity leave, you need to know your salary.

The EI benefits pay out 55% of your average weekly insurable earnings up to a maximum amount.  Which means that even if you make $75,000 annually, you will still be paid out the maximum amount on a weekly basis which is 55% of your earnings up to 35 weeks, or around $638 each week for 2022.

That’s about $2552 per month (before taxes deducted).

The 18 Month Maternity Leave in Canada

The 18-month maternity leave/ parental leave is called the extended parental benefits.

The extended parental benefits pay out 33% of your average weekly insurable earnings, up to the same maximum amount, for a maximum duration of 61 weeks.

For 2022:  This works out to be around $383 each week. 

This is roughly $1532 a month (this is before taxes are deducted).


Depending on your employer benefits or even whether you are self-employed, you have to budget for your maternity leave unless you’re lucky enough to be taking maternity leave in Sweden, which pays 80% of your income for the full 18 months.

Even if you get a top up from your employer (which may replace up to 70-85 or even 90% of your gross pay) for a few months, you will still have to budget for the remaining year which will only be funded by EI payments.  The maximum EI payment is around $2000 a month.  Unless you’re taking maternity leave in Sweden, which pays 80% of your income for the full 18 months.

In addition to the hit to your income, baby expenses can be very costly in the first year, diapers don’t always come cheap.  Of course, there are lots of free baby stuff in Canada that you can sign up for to decrease the cost.  32 Newborn Huggies diapers can last you three days, haha!

Maternity Leave Canada Calculator

TD Canada Trust has a handy Parental Leave Calculator on their site so you can estimate how much you will receive.  I found this to be pretty accurate.

For more accuracy, here is the maternity leave calculator from the Government of Canada.

This is what the mat leave calculator looks like on the government’s website- you just input the numbers:

Maternity Leave Canada Calculator

I ran the numbers for an arbitrary due date and on a salary of $75,000 annually.  It breaks it down to when your maternity benefits will start and when the parental benefits will start and how much it will be.

It also breaks it down to if you were to use the 18 month option and how much you would receive a month.

The maternity leave calculator for Ontario and the maternity leave calculator for Alberta should be about the same since these are federal benefits.

Here’s what the maternity leave Canada calculator says:

Maternity Leave Calculator

For the 12 month leave, at around $638 each week over 35 weeks, that works out to be $22,330 in total received as a benefit.

Let’s run the numbers for an example with 2019 numbers.

So let’s say my baby was born in June 2018, and my salary is $75,000 and I intend to go back to work full time after my leave and my top up salary from my employer was for 6 months and it was topped up to around 80% of my salary and there was a top up for the first 2 weeks of the waiting period as well.  In 2018, I would get $37,500 for the first half of the year, and $30,000 for the second half of the year, for a total of $67,500 in annual income.

Then in 2019, the top up would be finished, and I would get just EI payments.  This would be $14,612 and then I go back to my job in June 2019 and make $37,500.  That would be a  total of $52,112.  And in 2020 my income would be $75,000 again.  Roughly, total income before taxes and other specifics from 2018-2019 would be $119,612 with the 12 month leave.

For the 18 month leave, at around $337 each week over 61 weeks, that works out to be $20,557 in total received as a benefit.  Let’s make the same assumptions as the previous example, with a baby born June 2018 and a salary of $75,000.  The top-up is the same for 6 months in total.

In 2018, I would get $37,500 for the first half of the year, and $30,000 for the second half of the year for a total of $67,500 in annual income  Then in 2019, I would just get EI payments and this would be for the whole of 2019, which would be $17,524.  Roughly, total income before taxes and other specifics from 2018-2019 would be $85,024 with the 18-month leave.

The maternity leave Ontario calculator should be roughly the same.

Does 12 months or 18 months leave Make More Financial Sense?

With the example situation above, the difference is around $34,588 in lost salary when opting for an 18-month leave over a 12-month leave.  Of course, there are other factors in play, like how much daycare is in your area (for example, 6 months of $1500/month daycare you would be spending $9000 which is less than the $34,588 in salary if your annual salary is $75,000).

Or the opportunity cost of missing out on another 6 months of being in the workforce.  Or the opportunity cost of not being present for your company’s annual salary review or increases and losing out on that with a longer leave.

Also, on the flip side, having a lower family net income may qualify you for more Child Care Benefit (CCB) payments.

Running the numbers with the above scenario, it makes more financial sense to opt for the 12-month leave.

However, if you have a generous benefits package, like for example if you work for the federal government (who get 90+% top up for 12 months for their leave, from what I have heard from people I know who work in the federal government), it may not be as financially difficult to extend another 6 months for a total of 18 months with solely EI payments since 12 months is topped up.  It will still not be ideal from a financial standpoint, but it is less expensive for the household budget for sure if you have a generous top-up for parental leave.

Also, keep in mind that if you don’t return to work after your maternity or parental leave, you may be on the hook to pay back your top up for your maternity or parental leave from your employer.

Any little bit counts, if you live in British Columbia, don’t forget to apply for the BCTESG when your child turns 6 to get $1200 money with no catch (you don’t have to deposit money yourself).

How Do You Apply for maternity Leave in Canada?

First off, you will have to be employed.  If you’re self employed and you don’t pay into EI benefits, you don’t get access to maternity leave or parental leave.  If you are employed, you would inform your manager and contact human resources to fill out preliminary paperwork.  You will need to let them know which option you are planning to take (the 12 month or the 18 month parental leave option).

On the last day of work you can start to apply for EI maternity and parental benefits.  If you wait too long (e.g. past four weeks), you risk losing your benefits!

Here’s the government website to apply for your EI maternity and parental leave in Canada.

It’s pretty straight forward but to receive your access code in the mail and to actually see your benefits start being paid out takes a bit of time.  Make sure you have money saved up for this time with lost income.

Parental Leave Canada application


Still, the Option is Nice for Maternity Leave in Canada

Although it makes more financial sense to just opt for the 12 month leave for most people (e.g. the majority of people who work for the federal government or those who don’t have an amazing top-up benefit), having the option of the 18 months extended leave is nice.

I know that when I went back to work at 12-13 months it was really hard for me both professionally and also as a new mom.

Related: How to maximize your Canada Child Benefit 

It was hard not seeing my baby for a whole day– but at the same time kind of nice because I could actually let my brain rest a little without worrying my baby was going to hurt himself!

After a few months back at work though, I got back into the swing of things and my mom brain subsided and confidence slowly grew at work.  It felt nice to work my brain again for more complex tasks and problem solving as a working mom.

I think this second time around, I will opt for the 12 month leave again, but my plan is to look for part-time work when I return, as part of my phased retirement plan.  I think if I were to go back to work full-time, I may opt for the 18 month leave for non-financial reasons (like more time to spend with my baby and more flexibility).

If you are lucky enough to have a defined benefit pension in Canada, here’s a post on whether it makes financial sense to buy back your pension when you return to work from your parental leave.

Recap of 12 vs 18 month maternity leave

To recap, if I were making $75,000 annually prior to going on maternity and parental leave in Canada, and I were wondering how much you would get from EI every week for 12 months vs 18 months maternity leave…

For the 12 month leave, you get $638 each week over 35 weeks, that works out to be $22,330 in total received as a benefit.

For the 18 month extended leave, you get $383 each week over 61 weeks, that works out to be $23,363 in total received as a benefit.

Maternity benefits (the first 15 weeks) can only be taken by the mother and parental leave benefits (the 35 weeks or 61 weeks) can be taken by either parent.

In summary, the 12 vs 18 month parental leave is pretty much the same benefit but stretched out over a longer period of time for the 18 month leave.  However, the confounding factors are access to childcare (and how much it is and how soon you can access it) and whether both parents can take parental leave at the same time (the answer is no but it can be shared).

Financially speaking, the 12 months maternity leave makes more financial sense.  We know that it’s not just about the finances though when you become a parent.  I know of many moms who decided to take the 18 month leave because it will be the last maternity leave and they want to spend that time with their children.

It’s enough worrying about whether to do a 12 month or 18 month leave, but once your child is born there is a whole lot of other stuff to sign up for.  Here’s a complete financial checklist for new parents in Canada to keep you organized.

Finally, if you’re remotely thinking of working during parental leave or maternity leave in Canada, read this first.

Canadian Moms and Dads, did you pick the 12 month or the 18 month leave? 

Which one made more financial or family sense for you?

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33 thoughts on “How Long Is Maternity Leave in Canada: 12 vs 18 Months?”

  1. Wow, your benefits are awesome. This post makes me want to move north.
    If you’re planning to go back to work, I think 12-month leave makes more sense.
    You can get back and get on with your life. 18 months seem like a really long time to be off.
    Best wishes, -Joe

    • @Joe- Yeah, so true. Come move up north! Your USD will go a long way up here 😉 I think I would be even more nervous about going back to work after 18 months. 12 months was hard enough.

    • @Tom- It’s pretty good, but Sweden is even better! I think 90-100% of pay for 18 months paid for by employer AND $100 a month daycare. We do pay into these benefits though. For example someone who is self employed would not have this benefit.

  2. Hi GYM, it’s really nice to have the options. What about dads? How long do they get for the paternal leave? Can they get 6 or 12 months?

    If money is not an issue, and job security is not a problem (like working for the government, or unionized jobs), probably 18 months is better? I don’t know.

    • @Helen- Yes, dads or moms can use the parental leave but only one person can use it at one time. In fact, I know a lot of my friends’ husbands who are taking the parental leave (e.g. usually after 17 weeks for the rest of the time). My friend’s husband gets a better top up than her, so she will go back to work around 4 months post-baby and he will use the parental leave the rest of the year.

  3. I really like this comparison. My son is 11 months old and I’m currently on the 18 month leave. My employer provided a generous top up of 90% of my salary for the first 6 months, so it was hard to go down to just EI extended parental leave payments when that ended, but it was something we planned from the beginning. What helps is that my husband has a good job and that our monthly mortgage payments are very manageable and my EI benefit payments almost cover it. As for our remaining expenses, we are living off the sizeable savings we had put away during my pregnancy. It never hurts to be over-prepared and luckily most pregnancies are a sizeable amount of time to plan ahead.

    I know that this decision doesn’t work for everyone, especially from a financial standpoint, but I am glad I took a longer leave (I say that now, get back to me in a couple months, ha!). Especially because my son is still not sleeping through the night – please let me know your secrets, haha!

    • @Jessica- Thanks so much for sharing your experience! Congratulations on your baby!! Almost 1! Yes, I felt it was super hard going to just EI parental leave payments too, lol. I felt really poor.

      Okay here’s my secret (but I am currently going through the 18 month sleep regression- yes that’s a thing!), if you’re still feeding your baby at night (not sure if you feed overnight) stop. And my other secret is sort of a “CIO” type approach where I heard my baby cry and then I accidentally fell back asleep and then he fell back asleep. Then at around 10 months I had to leave the room (hence us sleeping in living room) because he would wake up at 5:00am and see me from his crib and cry.

  4. First off, I’m still amazed that they give 12 months up north for maternity leave. It’s only 12 weeks(about 3 months) here in the US. Hopefully they will at least stretch it to 20 weeks in the near future so mothers do not have to use as much vacation or sick pay as they do now when they are on leave.
    I think you should stick with the 12 month leave. Although 18 months sounds like great because it’s more time off, the pay is less. Like you said unless your company covers most of the remaining pay when you’re on leave, you should for the 12 month leave.

    • @Kris- Thanks for your suggestion! I can’t believe it’s 12 weeks in the US, that must be really hard. I would find it difficult to not see my 3-6 month old during the day- that is like the absolute cutest time.

      • It’s not 12 weeks. It’s 6 or 8 depending on delivery. And it’s unemployment, so you get like 60% of pay maxed out at $450 or something like that. The extra weeks I believe the above person is referring to is unpaid family medical leave. It’s really shitty. Nobody should have to go back to work and stick a 6 week old in daycare

        • @Eh- I know I can’t imagine 🙁 I have heard of people using sick time to add to the 6-8 weeks. You’re barely recovered from the trauma of birth at 6 weeks too…

  5. It’s great that y’all can get 12 months or even 18 months of parental leave. Besides it being crazy that the max amount of time we can get here in the US is 12 weeks, I found it mind blowing when people would ask me if I was taking 6 weeks or the full 12 weeks. Most definitely the 12 weeks! With our oldest it was a lot harder to go back to work because I went back part-time. This time around I was already PRN (3 shifts in 6 weeks). So after I did my computer training and worked a shift, I was off for another 2 weeks. However, if I could get a year I would definitely take it.

    I agree with you that the 12 month option sounds better than the 18 month option. I couldn’t imagine being out of nursing for 18 months. I’d feel like a new nurse when I return. Lol.

    • @Kim- I can’t believe people would ask 6 weeks vs 12 weeks! At 6 weeks a newborn is so vulnerable to so many things, like severe infections etc. Anyway I’ll get off my soap box now! Yeah going back to work for me was pretty stressful but it got better after 3 months. My ‘mom brain’ took a bit of time to wear off.

  6. If I could do it again I would absolutely take 18-months, financial impact be damned. As long as I can make it work financially, even if I just squeak by, I would do it.

    Those extra 6-months are time that you’ll never get back. Instead of going back to work after 12-months I’m ok with taking off 18-months now and then working an extra 6-months before I eventually retire. Seems like a good trade-off.

    • @Owen- Good point. I think if I were going back full time I would definitely take the 18 months. I am planning to work part time when I return so I think it should be okay with 12 months of leave.

  7. It’s interesting to read this. We have a 6 month fully paid maternity leave in India. Post that, it is unpaid leave. I extended mat leave by a month, since my employer allows that ( not everyone does). It would have been a good option to have a 12 month or 18 month option available, just to be with my baby. But I also think it would have been very difficult getting back to work for me, as my industry changes a lot, so I would have taken a lot of time to get to a work rhythm.

    • @Shirly- Is the maternity leave fully paid (6 months) paid for by employer or is it subsidized by the government? So interesting, thanks for sharing- love hearing what other countries are doing.

  8. I wish you did a comparison for those of us who do not receive a “top up.” The only people I have met with that option is teachers, nurses and government officials.
    It is also different for those who own their own small businesses.
    This is good to start a conversation but there are many different aspects.

    • @Anonymous- Thanks for your feedback. There are a number of people who I know that work in the private sector who get a full year’s top up! If you own your small business and you don’t pay into EI you don’t get any EI benefits. If you don’t get a top up, the calculation is even more simple- the amount that you receive from EI from the government is the same over 12 months as it is over 18 months. You get more time but less money, the money is stretched/rolled out out like pizza dough 🙂

      • Since the maternity leave portion of both is still max benefits ($638 per week for the first 15 weeks in 2022), you actually get about $1000 more taking the 18 month leave option instead of the 12 month leave option.

        Using a leave that starts on June 30th for example:

        Your maternity benefits are estimated at $638 a week
        will end after 15 weeks, around Saturday, October 22, 2022
        Your standard parental benefits will begin around Sunday, October 23, 2022, after your 15 weeks of maternity benefits end
        are estimated at $638 a week
        will end after 35 weeks, around Saturday, June 24, 2023
        15 x $638 = $ 9,570
        35 x $638 = $22,330
        Total Standard = $31,900

        Your maternity benefits are estimated at $638 a week
        will end after 15 weeks, around Saturday, October 22, 2022
        Your extended parental benefits will begin around Sunday, October 23, 2022, after your 15 weeks of maternity benefits end
        are estimated at $383 a week
        will end after 61 weeks, around Saturday, December 23, 2023
        15 x $638 = $ 9,570
        61 x $383 = $23,363
        Total Standard = $32,933

        Granted, $1000 is not a large amount for an additional six months, but it really depends on each couple’s lifestyle, etc. The opportunity cost of lost wages would definitely factor in here.

        • @Marilyn- Thanks for sharing! Yes, opportunity cost of lost wages is definitely a factor. I know more people taking the 18 month leave for their 2nd or last child they expect to have because they are done with family planning and plan to work less after the 18 month leave anyway.

  9. So many factors to consider and you can choose anywhere form 12-18 months. For my family it made the most sense to take 14.5 months off. I had a summer baby, the end of July. My older children are out of school, so I can spend time with all of them plus my work really slows down in the summer and the boss tries to send staff home if she can. There is also the consideration that most women take a few weeks off before they give birth. This would mean that baby is not quite a year if they only take 12 months. Daycares often charge more for under 1, and it would also be helpful to know what ages the classes are at. My daycare has all children under 4 in a room together, but some have separate rooms for under 1. Also space fills up fast for the younger group, because of ratio so there might not be space until the child is over 1 ( ratio in Alberta for under 12 months is 1:3 and on there birthday it moves up to 1:4 )

    • @Heather- There’s been a lot more people that i know taking the 18 month leave than I thought. Good point about summer- especially with school age children- I went back I think when my son was around 13-14 months too and it felt a bit early as he wasn’t walking yet. When you took the 14.5 months off and returned to work, what about the remaining EI payments, I assume they stop?

    • Hi Lindsay,

      Using the government website for estimate and if I were starting my maternity leave next week, if I were making $75,000 annually, my estimated leave amount with extended leave (18 months) is:
      Your maternity benefits:

      are estimated at $562 a week
      will end after 15 weeks, around Saturday, February 15, 2020
      Your extended parental benefits: will begin around Sunday, February 16, 2020, after your 15 weeks of maternity benefits end
      are estimated at $337 a week will end after 61 weeks, around Saturday, April 17, 2021

      If you took standard parental benefits instead of extended parental benefits

      Your standard parental benefits would: begin around Sunday, February 16, 2020, after your 15 weeks of maternity benefits end
      be estimated at $562 a week

  10. Thanks for sharing this! I’m confused about the “your regular weekly earnings from work have decreased by more than 40% for at least 1 week”
    Does this mean your hours would have to be cut before you leave in order to qualify for maternity leave? I’m going on sick leave first before maternity so I’m not sure how that all works.

    • @Julia- Congratulations on your pregnancy. From my experience there is at least one week where you don’t receive any pay (e.g. the bridge between sick time and then maternity leave starting) and then maternity leave kicks in.


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