WOMEN face a pension shortfall compared to men and it can leave us thousands of pounds worse off in retirement.
In fact maternity leave and taking a career break to look after kids can cost you as much as £158,000 in savings.
At 65 with no break at all the average pension could be worth £474,041, calculations by AJ Bell show.
Taking two breaks of one year each could see that drop to £460,455, costing you £26,000.
A longer career break of five years will cut your pension pot by £65,000, and those looking to reduce their working hours after returning face a bigger sting.
Two breaks of a year each and returning part-time until the eldest goes to school would cost £60,000.
But returning to part-time work for the rest of your career three days a week would add up to £158,000 over your working life.
The same kind of breaks would also affect a mans pensions, but women are still more likely to take time off despite rights to paternity leave.
One of the big reasons that women have a smaller pension than men is the impact career gaps have on their retirement saving, said AJ Bell's head of personal finance Laura Suter.
"A break from working for even a year can leave you almost £14,000 worse off in retirement, assuming you cut your pension contributions in that time.
"But the effect of career gaps can rapidly add up, with a five-year break costing you more than £65,000 when you come to retire at the age of 65."
When taking a break it means that you're usually making a smaller contribution to your pension, or none at all.
This means they miss out not only on that cash saving, but contributions from their employer, tax relief as well as investment gains.
The calculations assume a pension contribution of 5% of an average salary from the age of 22, and the same from your employer, plus tax relief.
It also assumes contributions increasing by 2% a year as you earn more, returns of 4% a year.
As contributions are a proportion of salary, then returning to work with reduced hours means you're contributing less compared to full time.
Suter said: “Part of the issue is that typically women take career breaks in their 30s and the money contributed to their pension during that time would have up to 35 years to grow and compound during that time, which amplifies the effect of any breaks in their pension contributions.
“But many women also see cutting pension contributions as an easy money-saving measure when they’re on maternity leave or working part-time, without thinking about the long-term implications this short-term move can have.
"It’s important to factor in the real cost of cutting contributions before you do it.”
How to avoid losing pension cash when having a family
When taking time off for having kids the amount you contribute could reduce to zero.
Unfortunately that then puts us at a disadvantage compared to men, who generally take less time off for parenting.
If you can continue paying in then you should, especially if your employer will continue doing so too.
The amount you contribute could fall if you're on maternity leave and get less than your usual salary, because contributions are a percentage of what you earn.
You may have to increase your contributions just to keep it at the same level as when you were working, if you can afford to.
You may not be able to contribute more or anything at all during this time as we all know a baby and kids in general can bust budgets.
But you can try and make up this shortfall, or at least reduce it, by making plans to contribute more before and after a career break.
Suter said: "See if you can increase your contribution before you go off, to try to shore up the pot before you take time off, or boost your contribution when you return to help make up any shortfall."
She also recommends checking what your work provides, as they may include enhanced pension contributions as part of their maternity package.
“Make sure you include pensions as part of your discussions with HR when you’re organising your maternity leave," she said.
If you change your hours or go back to flexible working it's also worth thinking about how this could affect your pension contributions.
Don't forget too that you should make sure you are getting credits that fill gaps in National Insurance payments during this time.
National Insurance contribution's are used to calculate the state pension, which can be less than the full amount if you have missing years.
Suter said: “If you decide to take a career break then make sure that you claim child benefit.
"You can claim it from when your child is born and, as well as paying you £1,0100 a year for your first child, you’ll also get valuable National Insurance credits from the Government that will help you to build up your state pension.
Even if you or your partner earns more than £50,000 and may have to pay some of the benefit back, or get nothing at all, it’s still worth claiming to get the National Insurance credits, she added.
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