Pregnancy and maternity harmonisation guidance

Policy details

Metadata item Details
Publication date:12 June 2020
Owner:GSS Harmonisation Team
Who this is for:Users and producers of statistics
Type:Harmonisation standards and guidance

What we mean by harmonisation

Harmonisation is the process of making statistics and data more comparable, consistent and coherent. It produces more useful statistics that give users a greater level of understanding.

What this guidance covers

This guidance provides information on where to find pregnancy and maternity data. It also provides information on legislation related to pregnancy and maternity.

Available data

The Office for National Statistics’ Centre for Equalities and Inclusion carries out a regular an audit of known data sources on pregnancy and maternity. The latest Equalities Data Audit was published in December 2019. It is important to note that the audit is a snapshot of what the team were aware of at the time.

The 2021 Census should also give us information on pregnancy and maternity.

Survey data sources

Of the surveys that focused on different aspects of maternity and pregnancy, Understanding Society has the most comprehensive coverage. Others ask if a person is pregnant or include pregnancy as a reason for not being in the workforce.

For those that ask a respondent if they are pregnant, there is no consistency. Variants include:

  • And can I just check, are you currently pregnant? (Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey)
  • May I check, are you pregnant now? (Health Survey for England – questionnaire)
  • Can I check, are you pregnant at the moment? (Health Survey for England – nurse visit)
  • May we check, are you pregnant now? (National Survey for Wales)
  • May I check, are you pregnant now? (Scottish Health Survey)
  • Can I check, have you been pregnant in the last twelve months? (Taking Part Survey)
Adults Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (2014)EnglandAsks if a person has any children in the household and if they are currently pregnant.
Diet and Nutrition Survey of Infants and Young Children (2011)UKAsk about level and frequency of breastfeeding. Also, how long babies are breastfed for.
European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) (UK – 2017)EuropeAsks about receipt of Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance.
Health Survey for England (2018)EnglandAsks if currently pregnant and various pregnancy related healthcare questions.
Health Survey Northern Ireland (Financial Year 2017 to 2018)Northern IrelandA module on attitudes to breastfeeding has been included in the 2012 to 2013, 2014 to 2015 and 2017 to 2018 survey. These are all financial year surveys.

In collecting height and weight measurements for BMI classification, respondent is asked if they are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Infant Feeding Survey (2010)UKHas a section on the relationship between mothers’ working arrangements and feeding patterns including timing of return, working hours and facilities for breastfeeding or expressing breastmilk.
Labour Force Survey (January 2020 – March 2020)UKIncludes “pregnancy problems” as a potential reason for sickness absence from work. From January 2020 this has been separated out from other genito-urinary conditions.

It also asks if a person is not in education, employment or training is because they are pregnant or caring for own children.

From 2020 the LFS has also separated maternity and paternity for the questions that ask why the respondent is away from work or receiving less pay.
Maternity and Paternity Rights and Women Returners Survey (2009 and 2010)

New survey fieldwork took place in 2019
Great BritainMonitors take-up of maternity benefits and mothers’ post-birth employment decisions.
Maternity Services Survey (2018)EnglandNHS survey of the experience of women receiving maternity services.
Millennium Cohort Study (2015)UKThe cohort were aged 14 years. The parental questionnaire asks about reason for a job ending and includes leaving to have a baby.
National Diet and Nutrition Survey (Financial l Year 2016 to 2017)UKAsks if a person is pregnant or breastfeeding. This is a filter question to exclude them from the survey.
National Survey for Wales (Financial year 2019 to 2020)WalesAsks if currently pregnant.

There is a module on fair work that asks about awareness of and access to paternity leave and shared parental leave.
Pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination and disadvantage: Employer's surveyGreat BritainCovers the views and experiences of employers on a range of issues related to managing pregnancy, maternity leave and mothers returning to work
Pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination and disadvantage: Mother's surveyGreat BritainCovers the views and experiences of mothers on a range of issues related to managing pregnancy, maternity leave and mothers returning to work
Scottish Health Survey (2018)ScotlandAsks if currently pregnant.
Taking Part Survey (Adults) (April 2016 to March 2017)

Question removed after this survey.
EnglandAsks if currently pregnant or have been in the last 12 months.

Asks if you are caring for your own child (including an adopted child) under 6-months-old.
Understanding Society (January 2019 to June 2021)UKMost comprehensive set of questions.

This is a longitudinal study and asks about new members of the household. This gives the opportunity to add a new baby and identify if any parents to that new entrant are in the household.

Also includes:
· use of fertility treatment
· live birth or not
· questions on if a pregnancy ends early and the reason for this
· multiple births
·  breastfeeding, including length of time feeding
· smoking or drinking alcohol during pregnancy

Work question asks if being on maternity or paternity leave was the reason for not being at work in the last week.
Welsh Health SurveyWalesNow included in National Survey for Wales
What about Youth Survey (2014)England, one-off survey of 15-year-oldsOne question asked about if they agree or disagree if smoking during pregnancy can harm a baby.
Work-Life Balance Employer Survey (2013)

New data will be released shortly
Great BritainCovers flexible working; maternity leave; paternity leave; maternity and paternity benefits and rights; and parental leave.

Administrative sources

Administrative data on pregnancy and maternity is collected as part of operational or management systems.

Who holds the dataData source
Department for EducationChildren looked after in England including adoption
Higher Education Staff Record
School Workforce Census (England)
Department of Health and Social CareAbortions notifications
Children in Care return
Department for Work and PensionsBenefits data
General Register OfficeStatutory register of births – England and Wales
Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland Maternity System (NIMATS)
Ministry of DefenceUK Armed Forces Biannual Diversity Statistics
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local GovernmentHomelessness PE1 Data
NHS DigitalBirth notifications
Female Genital Enhanced dataset
Hospital Episode Statistics (HES)
Maternity Services Dataset
National Pregnancy in Diabetes Audit (NPID)
Personal Demographic service
Smoking status at time of delivery data
Stop smoking service dataset
Summary care records
NHS ScotlandScottish HES equivalents (Scottish Morbidity Record 00/01/02/04)
NHS (Wales)Welsh Hospital Episode Statistics
NHS Wales Informatics ServiceMaternity Indicators Dataset
Patient Episode Database for Wales
National Records ScotlandLive Births
Statutory register of births
Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA)Live Births
NISRA General Register Office (Northern Ireland)Statutory register of births
Office for National StatisticsConceptions – England and Wales
Live Births – England and Wales
Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland)Child Health System
Public Health EnglandCancer Outcomes and Services Data (COSD)
National Congenital Anomaly and Rare Disease Registration Service (NCARDRS)
Public Health England and The University of ManchesterNational Drug Treatment Monitoring System
Scottish GovernmentHomelessness statistics HL1
The University of ManchesterNational Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide

Census 2021

The 2021 Census intends to collect improved information on pregnancy and maternity.  There is no direct question, but information can be approximated. This applies in all four UK countries.

Please note that census questions need parliamentary approval. This will be sought during 2020. It is not anticipated that any of the questions listed in this guidance will change.

Information on mothers protected from maternity discrimination

It can be calculated if a mother is protected from maternity discrimination from the date of birth of the child and information on household relationships. This is as long as the baby is alive and living with the mother. This is the same as in 2011.

Information on maternity leave

The census question on labour market activity in the last week is planned to change so that maternity and paternity leave is separated out from other reasons for not being in work.

In the 2011 Census the question contained the text:

“Last week, were you away from work ill, on maternity leave, on holiday or temporarily laid off?”

In the 2021 Census the planned question will have the text:

“In the last seven days were you doing any of the following:

  • temporarily away from work ill, on holiday or temporarily laid off
  • on maternity or paternity leave”

Combining this information with information on sex will allow calculation of the number of women:

  • on maternity leave with a baby at home
  • on maternity leave with no baby at home (this could be because they are still pregnant, the baby was stillborn, or the baby is living elsewhere)


The 2010 Equality Act (Great Britain) 

Pregnancy and maternity is one of the nine protected characteristics identified in the 2010 Equality Act for Great Britain. The Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone, or treat them unfairly, because of pregnancy or maternity. Protection covers the period during pregnancy, after birth and issues relating to maternity leave. It also covers up to 26 weeks after birth for non-work issues and breast feeding.

There are two main types of pregnancy and maternity discrimination; unfavourable treatment and victimisation. Pregnancy and maternity discrimination can be summarised as being treated unfairly because you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or because you’ve recently given birth. You must suffer a disadvantage as a result of the unfair treatment.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is the national equality body with a mandate for challenging discrimination in Great Britain. They provide information on their work on pregnancy and maternity in the workplace.

Citizens Advice gives a summary of what is covered as pregnancy and maternity discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. This is split into discrimination inside and outside work.

There is also guidance on pregnancy and maternity discrimination from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).

Legislation in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland pregnancy and maternity is covered in the gender discrimination laws. Primarily the 1970 Equal Pay Act (NI) and the Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has guidance for pregnancy and maternity and work. This includes what is considered pregnancy discrimination and maternity discrimination.

Further information 

Reports on prevalence of pregnancy discrimination

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (now Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) commissioned a programme of research to investigate the prevalence and nature of pregnancy discrimination and disadvantage in the workplace.

The protected characteristics on the 2010 Equality Act

Pregnancy and maternity is one of the nine protected characteristics on the 2010 Equality Act for Great Britain.

There are harmonised standards or guidance available for the other eight:

Inclusive Data Taskforce

In October 2020, the National Statistician established the Inclusive Data Taskforce to improve the UK’s inclusive data holdings in a broad range of areas, including the nine protected characteristics of the Equality Act. In September 2021, the Taskforce recommendations were published, some of which specifically refer to harmonised standards. The National Statistician’s response to these recommendations references the publication of a GSS Harmonisation Plan and the review, refinement and updating of harmonised standards. Further information on this work will be made available in due course.


The team are keen to hear if you would be interested in us developing harmonised questions on pregnancy and maternity. Please contact the team at

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