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This article focuses on three countries with distinct policies toward motherhood and work: Germany, Sweden and the United States. We analyze the length of mothers' time out of paid work after childbirth and the short-term career consequences for mothers. In the United States, we identify a career punishment even for short timeout periods; long time-out periods increase the risk of a downward move and reduce the chances of an upward move. In Germany, long time-out periods destabilize the career and, the longer the leave, the greater the risk of either an upward or downward move. In Sweden, we find a negative effect of time out on upward moves. Hence, even in "woman-friendly" Sweden, women's career prospects are better if they return to paid work sooner rather than later.