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The shocking number of new moms who return to work two weeks after childbirth

(Photo by Flickr user christina rutz)

In the United States, nearly a quarter of employed mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth, according to a new report from In These Times, a nonprofit magazine, which analyzed data from the Department of Labor and collected stories from mothers who kept working through pain and grief.

It's not because they recover at a supernatural pace. Or because they value their jobs over their babies.

Some simply can’t afford the pay cut. Buying groceries for many American women trumps resting for as long as the doctor advises. So, they go back to the office — even if the C-section cuts haven’t yet healed or a premature baby remains in the hospital.

National data points to a probable culprit: Only 13 percent of workers in the U.S. have access to any paid leave, according to the BLS. Forty percent of U.S. households with children under 18, meanwhile, rely heavily on a mother’s income, Pew data shows.

A 2012 survey commissioned by DOL polled all workers who had taken family or medical leave. In These Times dug into the data further to learn what happened to new moms. They found 23 percent of women who had left work to care for an infant took less than two weeks off.

Less educated workers appeared to have it much worse: Eighty percent of college graduates took at least six weeks off to care for a new baby, and only 54 percent of women without degrees did so.

And about 43 million American workers have no paid sick leave, or time off for parents to care for sick kids. Access depends on occupation. Those with the highest salaries often enjoy the most generous benefits: 88-percent of private sector managers and financial workers enjoy paid time off, more than double the rate among service workers (40-percent) and construction workers (38-percent).

[The stark disparities of paid leave: The rich get to heal. The poor get fired.]

One mother interviewed by investigative reporter Sharon Lerner fell through the cracks of the Family Medical Leave Act, which guarantees at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave to 1) new parents at companies with more than 50 employees and 2) who have worked there for at least a year.

The woman, a counselor at a small college with a Master's degree, saved up vacation days and purchased disability insurance to prepare for two months with no income. She tried to time her baby to qualify for job-protected leave. As the story describes:

She had started her job in February 2014, which meant that she wouldn’t qualify until the following February. She counted back nine months from then and got to May, but then, to be safe, tacked on another two months in case the baby came early, so: July. That’s when she and Rachid would start trying for a second.

But the woman went into premature labor, which wrecked her plan. According to the story, she gave birth by C-section on Christmas Eve, too soon to qualify for leave or support from disability insurance.

She returned to work two weeks later, Lerner reported, worrying about her son, who remained under medical supervision.