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Should You Take a Shorter Maternity Leave?

mother holding baby and computer

Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo!, made headlines when she took a measly two-week (working) maternity leave after giving birth to her son, Macallister. Women around the world took a collective gasp. Only two weeks to recover from a medical procedure and bond with your newborn before returning to the office? What sort of a message is that sending to women in the workforce?

"As one of the foremost working moms in the nation with the power to lead the way for other women, Marissa Mayer has instead let working mothers down," insists Ivana Pignatelli, author of A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby's First Year and a blogger for ModernMom.com. Mayer isn't the only working mom to forgo taking time off with her baby. Micro maternity leaves seem to be a trend among women in high-level positions, according to Lee E. Miller, managing director of Advanced Human Resources LLC and co-author of A Woman's Guide to Successful Negotiating. A recent study by Columbia University in New York City reports that 40 percent of new mothers in the U.S. are back at work within three months, many of them after six to eight weeks.

Many celebrities certainly fall into that category. Workaholic fashion designer Victoria Beckham vowed to keep working right up until she had her daughter, Harper, and to not stop afterwards either, tweeting, "Maternity leave--what's that?" Actress Nicole Kidman only took three weeks off after giving birth to daughter Sunday before she started a new film. Gisele B?ndchen took six weeks of leave after having her son, Benjamin, then returned to shoot a fashion campaign (which means she was already in incredible shape, too!).

So what's the rush to get back from maternity leave? Although it isn't legal for employers to pass over pregnant women for promotions or salary increases, women are often unofficially docked for taking time out to raise a family, with the perception that the longer a woman is away, the less dedicated she will be to the job and therefore less worthy of a promotion. Throw into the mix the bad economy, and women have more reason to rush back to their jobs--they don't want to give employers any reason to lay them off.

But this doesn't mean that you should make a decision about your maternity leave that you will regret later in life. Yes, you need to be able to pay your bills. But if you can make minor cutbacks--less eating out, fewer movie nights and mani-pedis, or a lower-priced cable or cell phone plan--and still take a longer maternity leave, you should do it without reservation unless, of course, you're really missing the daily grind at the office. Your child will never be a baby again. You can't recapture your little one's firsts or those special bonding moments during feedings or early-morning snuggles.

The National Bureau of Research found that while mothers who returned to work full-time three months after giving birth showed higher levels of stress than those who weren't working, returning at six months seemed to add to the well-being of the family, and the mothers' stress levels dropped.

"The reality is, we have been oversold on what a woman's life should be: a career that breaks the glass ceiling, a happy family, and a passionate marriage," says Ivana Pignatelli, author of A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby's First Year and a blogger for ModernMom.com. "Unless there is some magic potion that a fairy is going to drop off on my front doorstep, I'm stumped as to how to 'have it all'. Enough of the idealized motherhood and the perfectionism that simply exhausts us rather than fills our lives with meaning." she says. "Let's change the conversation from 'having it all' to 'having what's right for you.'" That's certainly a healthier way to look at things.

Copyright ? 2013 Meredith Corporation.