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What Is the Best Age for a Child's Mom to Return to Work?

Moms who have been there and done that might tell you that there’s no “right” time to go back to work after your baby’s born. It’s often a matter of your personal circumstances and choice, whether you’re looking for an excuse not to return to work or you really need that paycheck again. But experts recommend waiting until your baby is, at a minimum, 8 weeks old.

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The 8-Week Rule of Thumb

For the sake of your baby’s health, you’ll probably want to be home with her through the first eight weeks, says Dr. Albert Dearden, who specializes in pediatrics in Atlantic County, N.J. “I personally don’t recommend going back to work sooner than this,” Dearden says. “You’ll want to wait until the first two sets of the baby’s vaccinations have been completed.” This times out with your own needs as well. You’ll probably require six to eight weeks to recover from childbirth, reports the Children’s Health Network, which recommends maternity leave of up to four months if you can swing it. If you’re breastfeeding, this gives you time to establish a routine with your baby, which can be helpful when you do go back to your job.

If You Want to Breastfeed

Whenever you decide to return, the U.S. government has your back if you decide to breastfeed. Effective March 23, 2010, the Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to require certain employers to not only allow you time to express milk, but also to give you a private place to do it -- and the private place can’t be the business restroom. This provision lasts for up to a year after your baby is born, but it doesn’t apply to all employers. You’re covered if you work for a company that’s subject to the FLSA, but this only includes companies that work in interstate commerce and do more than $500,000 in business annually. Hospitals and schools are also included. If you work for a private firm and you want to return while you’re still breastfeeding, you’re left to negotiate an arrangement with your boss. If he’s uncooperative -- and if you dread those inevitable leaks as you sit at a conference room table with all your coworkers -- you might consider staying out on maternity leave a little longer.

Who’s Watching the Baby?

The emotional side of leaving your baby is just as important as healthy and feeding considerations. Will it affect your bond with your baby if you return when she’s only a few months old? “A newborn will attach herself to whomever gives her care,” Dearden says. “If you go back to work too soon, particularly before eight weeks, someone else will be feeding and cuddling your baby while you’re away.” By four months, a firm bond between you and your baby should be established, says the Children’s Health Network. So if you wait the extra two months after those first two rounds of vaccinations, you could lessen the chance that your baby will transfer her affections to an alternate caregiver -- particularly when you keep up regular and daily contact with her. No matter how busy you are, try to set aside some bonding time after work, Dearden advises, time when you can focus wholly on your child.

RELATED: Why Women Vanish as They Move Up the Career Ladder

Earnings vs. Expenses

If your finances are driving you back to work -- you just can’t afford to stay out for four months -- ask yourself if you’ll really be coming out that far ahead if you have to stretch your earnings to pay for child care. Include the costs of working as well -- tally up gas or transportation expenses, wardrobe costs and meals away from home. If you’ll only come out marginally ahead, waiting for four months might make sense all the way around. The flip side to this is that if your career is an important part of your life -- you’ve spent years climbing the corporate ladder or earning an advanced degree -- staying out too long can put at least a temporary chill on your chances for advancement. Almost 70 percent of American women with children younger than 18 worked in 2013, reports the U.S. Department of Labor, but they don't tend to rise up in the ranks of their companies as steadfastly or quickly as men. Business Insider indicates that this may be because they tend to put family responsibilities first -- work doesn't have the same emotional priority.

Photo via Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images

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