Self-employed and pregnant: all about the ZEZ benefit and more

Hooray! You are expecting. For many mums-to-be, this is an exciting time. If you are self-employed and pregnant, you face additional challenges. Are you eligible for the Maternity Benefit for the Self-Employed (Zwangerschapsuitkering zelfstandigen, ZEZ), for example? What does maternity leave look like when you own your own business? Are you entitled to a childcare allowance? And in what way will you return to work once your baby is born? Four mothers who run their own business answer these and other questions.

In this interview, you will read about the experiences of, and get tips from, Anouk Prins, owner of consultancy firm Prins Momentum, Gabriella van Rosmalen, owner of De SEO-School, Lindy van Herwerden, owner of Soak-Store, and Lotte van den Broek, owner of marketing agency Lots of Marketing. They talk about their pregnancies, what financial and physical obstacles they faced, how to apply for the ZEZ benefit, and how they prepared for their maternity leave.

How did you manage your finances during your pregnancy?

Anouk, the owner of consultancy firm Prins Momentum, found the  financial picture  surrounding her pregnancy difficult. “The ZEZ benefit was not as high as my income. That created a financial gap during my maternity leave. Besides, I had no job security after my leave. That uncertainty had a big influence on my decision to have a baby or not. Even though I had built up a buffer, it felt like I was jumping in at the deep end.”

Gabriella van Rosmalen, owner of De SEO-School, also built up a buffer. “Although I had calculated that we could get by on my husband’s salary, I had worked extra in the months before my maternity leave."

Applying was easy, but it took a long time to hear whether I got the benefit.

Lindy van Herwerden, owner of Soak-Store, did not need financial back-up as sales of the products in her online shop continued. “Revenue continued to come in, but it was lower than usual because I was less active on social media.”

Applying for the ZEZ benefit: how did it go?

“The allowance is not high, but it is nice that the maternity scheme is there at all”, says Lotte van den Broek, owner of marketing agency Lots of Marketing. “Applying for the ZEZ benefit at the UWV was easy, but I heard about the benefit only during my maternity leave. That made things quite stressful. I had applied for the ZEZ benefit on time. You can do that from the moment you are 24 weeks pregnant. I hear from other business owners that they also had to wait a long time. In the end, you will be fine if you meet the criteria.”

Childcare allowance not dependent on hours worked

One rule about the childcare allowance changed on 1 January 2023. The amount of the childcare allowance now no longer depends on the number of hours that has been worked. The number of months worked by the parent who works less will now determine the amount of the childcare allowance.

What did you run into during your pregnancy?

Prins ran up against the differences between pregnant women who were salaried and those who were self-employed, in terms of the levels of security each group had. “I know I am at greater risk as a business owner. That is my choice. The government encourages business ownership, but the limited provisions for pregnant women are discouraging. For instance, I was nauseous for the first weeks of my pregnancy, and that meant I could not work. There is no safety net for this.”

Van den Broek suffered mostly from physical limitations. “I had misread my energy levels. Despite the fatigue, I gave as much as I had been giving before pregnancy”, she says candidly. “When I look back on it, I think: I was really tough on myself. I was afraid of disappointing customers.”

“Can I return to my old energy levels after maternity leave? Do they take a business owner with a child seriously?” Van Rosmalen often wondered about this when she was pregnant. “In hindsight, all that self-doubt was unnecessary and I was able to pick up work quickly after my pregnancy.”

Van Herwerden found others’ comments particularly annoying. “While I was on maternity leave, I was working regularly. People around me voiced their criticisms, saying I should be getting more rest. But I felt fine, and I found it bothersome that people were getting on my case so much.”

As a self-employed person, how did you prepare for maternity leave?

Van Herwerden found someone to replace her in the shop, and kept her online shop open during her maternity leave. “I normally ship orders every day. During my leave, I brought that down to twice a week. In addition, I got help from my family. I found it a bit stressful having to ship less often, because I did not know how customers would respond. Thank goodness, they were understanding. Other than that, I had no well-thought-out plan, and thankfully my pregnancy went well. Things could have turned out differently. In that case, it would have been smart to have a plan B, which I did not.”

In hindsight, all the insecurities I was feeling at first were unnecessary. I need not have worried. 

“I had arranged my work so that I could really take a break during my maternity leave”, says Van Rosmalen. “The projects where I have personal contact with clients, I had completed or put on hold. That really took some advance planning.”

Prins also made a conscious choice to put everything on hold during her leave. “On LinkedIn, a few days before my leave, I posted the message, ‘I’m really unplugged for a while'. I had already informed my clients personally, though.”

Did you outsource work during your pregnancy?

Lotte van den Broek had not outsourced any work to another business owner during her pregnancy. “If I get pregnant again, I will do things differently. Recently, I got help with administrative tasks. Those activities suck up so much of my energy. I should have outsourced them much earlier, and certainly while I was pregnant.”

Van Rosmalen did not outsource her work either: “I see that pregnant women who are self-employed sometimes ask another business owner to take over the work temporarily. That is a good idea, because I noticed that it took a lot of time to get my online visibility up to the old level. On the other hand, it is hard to let things go.”

“I was happy to have found someone who wanted to be in the shop”, explains Van Herwerden. “I did want to continue managing my social media accounts myself, even though I had less time for that. The added value of my online shop comes from the personal attention I give it. Comments I make under my social media posts are appreciated. Besides, being online and actively responding to my followers’ comments is good for my outreach numbers. I realised only afterwards how much impact my social media posts and in-store presence had been having on sales figures.”

Who did you get your information from?

Through social media, Prins found a number of female business owners in her neighbourhood. “I just approached them with a few questions. We still talk to each other about combining motherhood with owning a business. And nice new contacts have emerged from these connections.”

How strict I was with myself. I was afraid of disappointing customers.

Van Herwerden had mainly received a lot of information from the midwife and the UWV. She also enjoyed interacting with other business owners. “I follow a number of Facebook groups where women business owners share questions and challenges in relation to being self-employed and pregnant. It is nice to know what they faced during their pregnancy and how they solved things.”

Van den Broek got advice from other business owners: “I surround myself online with many other mothers who are business owners. Sharing my experiences made me feel less alone and gave me useful tips.”

How did you pick up your work after you came back from leave?

“Since I attract most of my clients online, maternity leave led to some stress. I was less visible online, so I wanted to come back with a splash”, Van den Broek says. “So by the time I did, I had set up an online campaign to win new customers. And it worked. From that point on, my business started growing tremendously. In hindsight, all the insecurities I was feeling at first were unnecessary. I need not have worried.”

Anouk set herself a goal after her maternity leave. “In 2021, I wanted to match my turnover from 2019. After my leave, I started working fewer hours. Soon I found that this left me short of time, so now Jules goes to daycare one day a week more. After my leave, I was able to complete the project I had put on hold before my leave, and assignments have come out of this one. The biggest challenge right now is finding the right balance and getting some rest.”

ZEZ benefit and childcare allowance

Pregnant business owners are entitled to the ZEZ benefit from the UWV. You get the benefit for at least 16 weeks. If you were self-employed for at least 1,225 hours in the year before you became pregnant, you will receive the maximum benefit. This is equal to the minimum wage. If you worked less than 1,225 hours in that year, the benefit is lower and depends on the amount of your earnings in that year. If you have disability insurance, you will generally get benefits from the insurance company. The amount and conditions will vary from one insurer to another. All business owners in this article got the ZEZ.

As a self-employed person, you are also entitled to a childcare allowance from the Belastingdienst (Dutch Tax Administration). How much you get will depend on a number of factors, such as your income, whether you have an benefits partner, and the number of hours your child is in childcare for.