Players contracted to England’s women’s rugby team will be entitled to fully paid maternity leave for 26 weeks as part of a new policy announced by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) on Thursday.

Players who are called up within 12 months of giving birth or adopting a child will have travel and accommodation costs covered for children under 12 months old and a “support person” to join them.

“There will be a similar provision made for any player who would prefer for their infant to remain in the home environment,” the RFU said in a statement.

If contracts are renegotiated or extended during the player’s pregnancy or maternity leave, the player will be included in discussions and have their contract extended for at least 12 months, the RFU added.

Players due to go on maternity leave will also have opportunities to move into employment within sport.

“I am confident that the policy will help normalise motherhood in sport and give players the best possible chance of returning to play should they wish to do so in a secure and safe way,” England lock Abbie Ward said, who announced her pregnancy last month.

RPA general secretary Christian Day described the policy as a “significant step forward” for the women’s game in England.

“This new policy ensures that our women’s players will be better supported through parenthood when representing England,” Day said.

In February 2022, England’s Football Association said players in the top two leagues in the country would get full pay for the first 14 weeks of maternity leave.