Pregnancy and maternity

Couple at an antenatal scan

Quick links:


The Equality and Human Rights Commission defines pregnancy as the condition of being pregnant or expecting a baby, while maternity refers to the period after the birth and is linked to maternity leave in the employment context.

In the non-work context, protection against maternity discrimination is for 26 weeks after giving birth, and this includes treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.

Scottish Government Evidence Reviews

The Scottish Government has published a series of Equality Evidence Reviews to inform the development of the public sector equality outcomes. The reviews explore available evidence about the scale and severity of issues faced by people with protected characteristics. View the review covering Pregnancy and Maternity.


ISD Scotland has the most up-to-date information about maternity and births in Scotland. This includes information about maternal age and deprivation and teenage pregnancies.

Research by One Parent Families estimates that in 2009 there were over 174,000 lone parents with 295,000 children in Scotland. Nine out of 10 lone parents are women.


A number of Scottish Government policies drive the work to improve the lives of pregnant women, those in the maternity period and their young children:

  • Improving Maternal and Infant Nutrition: A Framework for Action aims to ensure that all children have the best possible start to life, are ready to succeed and live longer, healthier lives. The framework is aimed at a wide variety of organisations with a role in improving maternal and infant nutrition but primarily the NHS, local authorities, employers, the community and voluntary sector.
  • The Refreshed Framework for Maternity Care in Scotland sets out the vision for Scotland´s maternity services, including the provision of quality parent education services that meet the needs of all parents. The Framework outlines the principles which govern maternity services from pre-conception, through pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal care and into parenthood in Scotland.
  • The Early Years Framework is about giving all children the best start in life and the steps the Scottish Government, local partners and practitioners in early years services need to take to achieve this. At the heart of the framework is an approach which recognises the right of all young children to high quality relationships, environments and services which offer a holistic approach to meeting their needs. Such needs should be interpreted broadly and encompass play, learning, social relationships and emotional and physical wellbeing.
  • Equally Well outlines an early intervention method as the key approach to take with early years. The recommendations set out in Equally Well support the approach outlined in The Early Years Framework.
  • The Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) approach establishes the principle of giving all children and young people the best possible start in life as a priority for all services. It sets out the approach for all services to assess and understand how best to meet individual needs. Getting it Right for Every Child builds from the universal services of health and education and sets out a national programme of transformational change to ensure that each child is: safe, healthy, active, nurtured, achieving, respected, responsible and included. For all professionals, there are legal powers and duties, professional protocols, quality standards and a range of professional guidance.

Further policy context can be found on the Maternal and Early Years website.


The Equality Act 2010 came into force in October 2010 and provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all. There are nine ‘protected characteristics’ under the Act including pregnancy and maternity.

The Equality Act 2010 provides women protection from pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work and outside of the workplace in areas including higher education and service provision.

Pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination can occur outside of the workplace if a woman is treated unfavourably because:

  • of her pregnancy
  • she has given birth within the past 26 weeks and, in particular, because she is breastfeeding.

Pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination can occur in employment if a woman is treated unfavourably because:

  • of her pregnancy
  • of pregnancy-related illness
  • she is on compulsory maternity leave, that is, for two weeks or four weeks if she is working in a factory)
  • she is exercising her right to take ordinary or additional maternity leave.

Source: Equality Challenge Unit - Pregnancy and Maternity: key legislation.

Updated May 2015

We use cookies to help improve this website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue. Don't show this message again