Disappearing duchess: What Kate's 'maternity leave' means

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JUNE 13:  Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge smashes a bottle of Champagne during the Princess Cruises ship naming ceremony at Oce...
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JUNE 13: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge smashes a bottle of Champagne during the Princess Cruises ship naming ceremony at Ocean Terminal on June 13, 2013 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)Getty Images

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By Eun Kyung Kim
The pregnant Duchess of Cambridge, just weeks away from her mid-July due date, will forgo public engagements until after the baby is born. Just how long of a maternity leave she plans to take is unknown.Mark Cuthbert / Today

Officially, the Duchess of Cambridge is off the grid, trying to spend the final weeks of her pregnancy out of a limelight that has followed her around-the-clock.

Unofficially, she has gone on leave, one that may stretch through the rest of the year – and possibly longer.

In Kate’s country, women are guaranteed 52 weeks of maternity leave – yes, 52 weeks, 39 of them paid.

“Of course, Kate is exempt from these rules and can do what she wants,” said British monarch expert Arianne Chernock, a history professor at Boston University.

Duchess Kate at her final solo public appearance, an official naming ceremony for a Princess Cruise ship, before the birth of her first child.CHRIS JACKSON / Today

The duchess is just weeks away from her mid-July due date. She made her final public appearances last week, first christening a cruise liner and then honoring Queen Elizabeth’s birthday at the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony.

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She then cleared her previously packed engagement calendar for the unforeseen future and began her leave. Her absence from the public eye was noted almost immediately.

On Monday, the duchess skipped the pomp and circumstance-filled Order of the Garter procession at Windsor Castle, leaving her hubby, Prince William, to attend without her. She was also noticeably absent a day later at the Royal Ascot, a horse-racing event she has attended in the past.

Kate can also be expected to forgo public commemorations and events like this fall’s Remembrance Day ceremony honoring fallen soldiers. And don’t expect any of those jaunts to children’s hospices or outings with the Scouts she was known for previously, said Camilla Tominey, royal editor of London’s Sunday Express.

Soon-to-be first-time parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.Max Mumby / Today

“We really can’t say what her diary may have included. She’s only been a royal for two years,” Tominey said. “But look back in the last year at the kind of engagements she got up to and then you can make a guess at what she won’t be doing.”

The Brits take their maternity leave seriously, and apparently it won’t differ for the duchess – or the duke, who is entitled to two weeks of paid paternity leave like all new British dads.

Palace officials have not disclosed how much time Kate plans to take off from public engagements. They did confirm Wednesday that Prince William will take his "statutory paternity leave" before returning to his chopper search-and-rescue duties with the Royal Air Force.

Chernock expects the duchess and her husband will define what “royal maternity leave” means for future generations.

“William and Kate have staked their identities as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on being more modern than their predecessors and injecting a more modern sensibility into their roles,” she said. “I think we’ll see this same principle, which they already applied to their marriage, to their role as parents.”

Many of the events the duchess has attended are highly choreographed, even those related to her numerous charities, which probably will rearrange project launches and initiatives to coincide with the duchess's return to her royal duties, Chernock said.

While Kate may go missing publicly, she will continue to be engaged behind the scenes on various issues, officials from St. James Palace said.

Prince Charles, his wife, Camilla, and Duchess Kate at the Queen's annual Garden Party last month.JOHN STILLWELL / Today

“She will continue to have private meetings, but just not public engagements,” a palace official said. Of Kate’s appointments, however: “No duties will be missed as no official public duties were planned during this period.”

While the royal family is likely to indulge the duchess with her desired amount of time off, it is likely Kate will feel a tug to return to work soon.

“She has said she’s very eager to continue her work on behalf of the queen,” Chernock said. “And she is so useful to the monarchy right now that I cannot imagine that she’ll stay out of public view for very long."

From the moment the royal couple announced in December 2012 that they were expecting, the world has been captivated by Kate's many maternity looks.