For moms who own their own businesses, taking three months off is often not an option, and can seem especially irresponsible in a financial crisis. “[Work] is my other baby. And in this economic climate, you have to take good care of it,” says publicist Vanessa von Bismarck of Bismarck Phillips Communications and Media, who stayed home for three months with her newborn son this winter but worked via e-mail. Designer Rachel Roy, who was away from the office “for weeks, if that” last year after having her second daughter, felt the same pressure. “If I wanted to keep my company afloat, I literally had to go back to work,” says Roy, whose mother helps take care of her children.
Meanwhile, some new moms who toil in more traditional corporate environments feel that they have to return to the office quickly so as not to lose the status they’ve worked so hard to attain, even if their bosses don’t verbalize such expectations. “If you’re working in a guys’ world, you have to play the game,” says one hedge fund manager who was on the treadmill three days after giving birth and back at work five days after that.
Amaru’s assurances about the resilience of women’s bodies aside, a speedy return to the office can have messy consequences. Especially when it comes to breast-feeding. “It’s hell,” Roy says. “You’re trying to make a point or have people respect you, and you have nipple leakage.”
“I pumped everywhere,” says Celerie Kemble, an interior designer who resumed work almost immediately after having each of her children, Rascal, two, and Zinnia, one, thanks in part to a baby nurse. “The UPS man [at my office] saw more boob in the last couple years than in his teenage heyday.”
But the hassles of pumping and leaking often mean that breast-feeding stops shortly after the maternity leave does, and it’s a trend that has doctors concerned. According to a recent University of California at Berkeley study, women who take fewer than six weeks off are four times more likely to fail to establish breast-feeding.
CNN anchor Campbell Brown, who had anticipated taking six to eight weeks’ leave after having her son in 2007, recalls being asked to moderate a presidential debate in Texas roughly eight weeks after giving birth. She agreed to do it and pumped in the wings during breaks so that she could FedEx breast milk back to her newborn—until a snowstorm delayed all outgoing flights. “My husband said, ‘Look, I’m going to have to give him a bottle of formula.’ I had an aha moment,” Brown says. “I thought, He can have a bottle of formula; it’s not going to kill him.” (Brown is due again in April and hopes to take six to eight weeks off.)