Coping with pregnancy or having a baby while at university

Finding out you're up the duff when you're at university might be the last thing you expect when assignments are at the forefront of your brain. Whatever your reaction to the news, you're likely to have more questions about being a student parent than about your final-year exam paper. While we probably can't help you with the latter, here is a guide to your rights as a student parent and the benefits available for pregnant students

Managing being pregnant at university

If you're (understandably) in a bit of a state of shock, then you're not alone. Finding out you’re pregnant at any stage of life brings with it a fair amount of emotional stress, even if the baby is the happy result of trying to conceive. But if you're one of the thousands of 18 and 19-year-olds who flock to universities every September, an impending arrival really does change everything. If you're a finalist, you might have some serious logistics to work through – assignment deadlines might be hard to meet if they fall on your due date, although “I was giving birth” is as good a reason as any to apply for extenuating circumstances.

If you're a graduate student or working on something where research funding is involved, it's perfectly natural to feel really thrown by your news and even question if your studying has been “worth it”. It is perfectly normal to think like this – but you shouldn't be hard on yourself. You won't be the only student to become pregnant during your course, whether you're a first-year undergraduate or a phD student in the middle of writing up, though you might well feel isolated. Universities don't currently have to record figures on the number of students who are parents, but the figure is thought to be around 5% of full-time students and nearly a third of all part-time students according to a survey by the NUS. Be assured, however, that your university will very likely have a large and well-used support framework to deal with all kinds of issues affecting its students. Reach out to any and all the support at your disposal.

Sad young pregnant girl

Even if you're cracking open the non alcoholic wine), coping with pregnancy while studying at university can be very hard – despite all the support offered by your university and those close to you. While you cope with pregnancy tiredness and become well acquainted with the couch and tv schedule, nights in can make you feel isolated when your friends are living the student lifestyle of parties and late nights. Just take comfort in the fact that you’ll be equally sleep-deprived.

Should I drop out of university?

Your first thought once the blue line appears in the university library loos is likely to be something along the lines of whether you should drop out. Only you can answer this based on your personal circumstances. Unlike babygrows, there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to having a child. You might feel up for carrying on with your studies without any form of interruption, particularly if your due date coincides with the long summer vacation period, which can run all the way from mid-May to mid-October in some universities. Your time management skills will really be put to the test during your pregnancy and after your baby is born. Stay on top of your deadlines and make sure to really bone up on your university’s attendance policies and its requirements for extenuating circumstances.

I got pregnant in my first year of uni. My parents didn't find out until after the baby was born and although they were disappointed, they adored my DS and were incredibly supportive. I split from his dad before he was born so I have always been a single mum. I took a year out and went on to graduate with a first. I have gone back to do a MSc this year, so it hasn't held me back at all.

If you're not so fortunate with the timing of things, as, let's face it, babies are about as punctual as public transport when there's a strike on – you may wish to seek an interruption of studies or a deferral from your university welfare office. This is absolutely not “failing”, by the way. Students interrupt their studies for a variety of reasons – whether they are travelling the world or abruptly find themselves having to care for a sick relative.

“Deferring isn't something to be ashamed of, and it is relatively common to do so whilst pregnant or looking after a baby. A friend of mine deferred her course for 2 years while she had twins. She went back, got a first and now has a successful career.”

You may decide to just stick with the whole becoming a parent thing for now and leave your studies indefinitely. This is completely understandable and a decision for you alone to make. You can always go back later on, should you choose to. But remember that a degree is not the be-all and end-all, so walking away at this stage is an equally honourable decision as soldiering on.

“You've no idea what kind of pregnancy you might have. You could have hyperemesis, SPD, etc. Anything can happen. I think it would be a bad idea to try and throw that into the mix of final year.”

One thing is for certain – you should not rush into make any grand plans at this stage. Your personal tutor or supervisor should be your first port of call, as with any concern you may have at university – your welfare is directly their concern.

Being pregnant is challenging at the best of times, whether you're studying or working. In the golden early days of staring wistfully at your positive pee-stick, it is difficult to predict what lies ahead. You could find yourself being better acquainted with the porcelain hug than with your essay bibliography. And tiredness, even in an uncomplicated pregnancy, will certainly trump any Freshers' Week hangover.

“I got pregnant at the end of my first year. I had a tricky pregnancy and had to leave, I was doing nursing. I was 21. Mum and dad were okay with it but disappointed. The baby is 11 now and I never went back to uni, I regret leaving but never regret my baby.”

What benefits am I entitled to as a pregnant student or student parent?

Finances are a headache for any student even before you factor children into the equation.

If you're 20 or over with a child and are studying for a further education qualification such as an NVQ, BTEC or PGCE at an institution funded by the SFA, you should look into applying for Discretionary Learner Support. The funds can be used to pay for things like materials, accommodation, transport or childcare. This is arranged through your college and, depending on your circumstances and what your college decides, might be a payment to yourself that you may or may not have to pay back, or it could be paid to your landlord or a similar such party. You won't be eligible for it, though, if you are in receipt of a loan through Student Finance. Do also check with your college to see if they have other bursaries you could be entitled to. And you should remember that you can get Child Benefit if you’re responsible for a child under 16.

When I told my tutor, he was very supportive. He gave me extensions on all my work, referred me to the counsellor and nurse. They also made it clear if I wanted to stay at uni I could have some time out and there was a nursery available. So don't feel anxious about telling your tutor.

If you're a postgraduate student, then the chances are you'll have thought through a bit more about how you'll fund your studies, given that the new postgraduate loans have only just come into operation. There is a whole host of organisations who offer bursaries for postgraduate students, including research councils such as AHRC, and charities such as The Wellcome Trust. Applications for funding from these organisations are very competitive and they will have their own eligibility requirements, so you probably shouldn’t rely on these but certain organisations, like Funds for Women Graduates might offer some help towards living costs.

Work is, of course, always an option but one which must be carefully considered. Students who do not have children find balancing a full courseload with a part-time job to be challenging time-wise, so if you do choose to work part-time when the baby is born, you should be aware of not spreading yourself too thinly. It is far better to end on a high and return to your studies later than to put yourself under unnecessary stress and risk your health. It's worth checking your eligibility for Child Tax Credits as well. If you were working between 16 and 30 hours a week before the birth of your child and decide to take maternity leave then you may also qualify for Working Tax Credits.

Do I have to pay council tax as a student parent?

Students who live with other students and everyone studies full-time don't have to pay council tax. If you're a full-time student and you live with a partner who is not a student, and it's just the two of you who are adults, then you will be eligible to pay a reduced rate, usually 25% less than the full bill. You have to declare this by writing to your local council with evidence of your student status, which is available through your university. Your local council will have more information on how to do this.

Student budget

What help can I get to pay for childcare?

Childcare is something you'll have to consider, obviously, as it is one of the inevitables of parenting. Lectures are not child-friendly places but your university may well have a nursery that is accessible to students and staff. Who knows, maybe Timmy will help you clinch that First by making friends with your professor's little Matilda. You could even name your baby after your favourite professor.

My course has very little contact time – less than 8 hours a week concentrated into two days, so it will be easy for me to care for DD and finish my degree. It doesn't have to be a disaster as people seem to make out, I am so happy that I have done it this way now

And this is where Arts and Humanities degrees really come into their own – you're unlikely to have a nine-to-five schedule of contact hours. Even a joint languages degree will see you hard pushed to break 15 contact hours a week. This will help somewhat with the expense of childcare as you won’t necessarily have to be in university. If your child is aged between three and four, your child is also eligible for 570 hours (or 15 hours per week) of free childcare. But you should not get your hopes up about the old chestnut of “having it all”, as having a newborn is like the busiest full-time job you can imagine – plus 24/7 on-call, overtime and comparatively little in the way of perks. Time spent out of the lecture theatre, especially when exams come around, is time for reading, researching and coursework.

You can apply for a Childcare Grant from the government that will get paid as part of your student loan package to help with childcare costs (if you're already receiving or are eligible for a student loan). Unlike your student loan, however, you don't need to pay these back and you could be awarded 85% of your childcare costs back. You have to be a full-time student with children aged under 15 who are financially dependent on you. Their childcare provider must be OFSTED registered, and if the child is cared for at home, then it must be with a registered childminder and not a relative. The exact amount you'll receive will be based on your household income, the cost of your childcare and the number of children you have. You'll receive the sum in three payments across the academic year, usually at the start of each term, and it will be paid directly into your bank account.

You won't be eligible for a Childcare Grant, however, if you are a part-time student. And if you're receiving a postgraduate loan or you or your partner are on Working Tax Credits, then you won't be eligible either. NHS bursaries for some healthcare courses can include a childcare element – if you're in receipt of this then you won't be able to apply for a Childcare Grant as well. It might seem obvious, but you can't redeem a Childcare Grant against the free 15 hours a week childcare allowance for three and four-year-olds. Also, if you're lucky enough to have a relative who looks after your child on a full-time basis, then you're not eligible, even if they are a registered childminder.

What Mumsnetters say about coping with pregnancy at university

“Financially it's been fine, I got more support in benefits than my fellow students and I was able to get a council house near my university as they have a low demand in that area.”

“I'm doing an OU degree whilst working part-time with one DC and a very supportive DH – some days I just want to scream and run away.”

“I sat my final exam last year at 39 weeks pregnant. It was two hours long and I managed it with one loo break. I passed too!”

“I had DD1 in final year – I deferred my dissertation and finished it during night feeds. If i was up feeding, I figured I might as well be one-handed typing.”