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How to Make Love to a Mom

Tara Paterson remembers just when her once-sexy sex life began to fizzle. "I got really annoyed one day when my husband looked down my shirt in front of the kids," says the mom of a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old in Round Hill, Virginia. "His overtures used to seem playful, but once Adam and Caden were old enough to notice, some of them made me uncomfortable, and I'd bat his hand away." After a while, he got frustrated with her rebuffs and stopped initiating sex altogether.

But all wasn't lost. Once she explained why she was shutting him down and shooing him away, they came up with new, more successful sexual signals, like hand-holding and hugging.

Many couples need to make a sexual fresh start after the baby arrives. Apart from the obvious physical changes to contend with (fatigue, sore breasts), there are emotional ones (a biggie: resentment over who puts in the most childcare time). But the effort it'll take to adapt is worth it. Sex is fun, and regular lovemaking creates a reservoir of goodwill that keeps marital spats to a minimum. "When our sex life is going well, my husband and I are both less irritable and more willing to cut each other slack," says Maria*, a mom of a 5-year-old in Phoenix.

But it might not always be clear exactly what adjustments need to be made, how to make them, or how to get your beloved to make them. Here's what you can tell him, plus some ways to get you both back on track in the bedroom:

"Let me get more shut-eye"
Being startled awake every two hours by a needy newborn is beyond exhausting. So it's hardly surprising that many new moms choose sleep over sex when they collapse into bed at night. If there's any hope of staying conscious for any type of romantic interlude, your partner needs to help you get more zzz's  -- not put a pillow over his head or stake out separate quarters to preserve his own sleep. "My husband actually moved into a separate bedroom when my son and daughter were first born so they wouldn't wake him up," says Kristen*, of Canton, Ohio.

Maybe he can give the baby her last bottle before bedtime so you can turn in earlier. Or maybe he can take over some of the wee-hour feedings  -- if you're nursing, you can pump breast milk during the day. And helping out around the house during the day, even if it's just on weekends, so you really can nap when the baby does, will go a long way toward helping you catch up on sleep.

Mary Garner Ganske has two daughters and writes frequently about women's health.

"Learn to love 'speed sex'"

Especially with an infant, the intervals between feeding and other childcare obligations just don't allow for long, indulgent lovemaking. You're going to have one eye on the clock and an ear out for the baby, so you'll each have to get used to quickies. "When my kids were really little, I wasn't up for a great deal of foreplay because I wanted to get to sleep," says Betty*, a mom of two from Franklin, New Jersey. "My husband and I have a very straightforward relationship, so I told him flat out that I needed sex to be efficient." Jane*, of Seattle, a mom of three, laughs when she talks about her warp-speed sex life. "Sometimes I'm so exhausted that I'll say, 'Be quick about it,' and there's no foreplay at all. We're done in less time than it takes to give one of the kids a time-out!"

"Be flexible about timing"
Since late nights aren't exactly the sexiest of times anymore, and mornings aren't so great either (the minute you get something started, someone will either cry to be picked up or pitter-patter into your bedroom), you'll both need to be open to other possibilities. Bridgette*, of Cleveland, who's got a toddler and 2-month-old twins, has negotiated it so her night-owl husband comes to bed with her, even though he doesn't turn in until a few hours later. "That way, we can have sex without me having to wait up for him."

"Watch what I'm doing"
Spur-of-the-moment advances may lose their appeal for a while. Betty gets miffed when her husband pats her on the behind, usually when she's trying to make dinner and the kids are swarming around. "I see it as proof that he doesn't get my life at all. I want to say, 'Aren't you aware that the kids are yelling and I'm packing lunches and the dog has pooped on the floor?'" She'd much rather be seduced after the dishes are done and the kids are squared away.

"Give me a hand"
If your spouse leaves the majority of the dirty diapers and wee-hour pacing up to you, it certainly won't be a turn-on. "My husband and I had sex once during the first two and a half years of our daughter's life," says Maria. "After she was born I had to go back to work full-time. He works from home and makes his own hours. He took care of the baby two days a week; the other three days we had a sitter. On the weekends, he left everything to me. It's not like I was relaxing all week  -- I was doing most of the childcare and was the breadwinner." After they let the sitter go, he took over full-time parenting. "I was no longer so angry. Now some weeks we have sex two or three times." Unfortunately, things won't magically correct themselves. If resentment is robbing you of any desire to be intimate with your partner, the two of you need to sit down and talk about how to divvy up parenting duties. The more specific you are (you do baths, he does bedtime), the better.

"Be gentle with my body"

It's the rare new mom who won't be tempted to laugh in her ob-gyn's face at the six-week checkup when she's told "it's fine to resume sexual relations now." It's the rare dad who won't be ready to go well before that. "I like sex a lot, but I'm bewildered by women who are eager to make love again after two weeks," says Mary*, a mom of three from Bethesda, Maryland. After each of her kids was born, it was several months before she felt willing or able to do the deed. "You're sore; your breasts are like basketballs. Plus, you're incredibly preoccupied with the baby."
Even when you're ready, chances are you'll need to vary things considerably. If you're nursing, there's a very good chance you won't want your spouse anywhere near your breasts. They'll be sore, and you may simply feel that for the time being, they belong to the baby. "With someone attached to my breasts a good portion of the time, I didn't want my husband fondling them in bed. It doesn't sound very romantic, but I just told him that everything from the waist up was off-limits," says one mom.
Down below you'll be bruised and sore, so the two of you probably shouldn't plan to run all four bases the first few times out. Says one mom: "I had scar tissue from my episiotomy, so we did things that didn't involve intercourse until the area healed." Even a c-section will require some maneuvering: The area around the incision will be tender for months, so best to keep extra weight off it. You can go on top, or try making love on your side.

"Woo me"
With romance likely the farthest thing from your mind at first, your partner will have to put in some extra effort to get something going. "My husband and I have a standing date on Saturdays. During the week I'm preoccupied with the kids and all the things I have to do," says Jane. "So even if we do have sex, I'm thinking about folding the laundry five minutes into it." Going out puts her in the mood by allowing her to feel like her prebaby, sexier self.
Can't get out? He can light candles, take over dinner (Chinese take-out qualifies!), offer a back rub, and make it clear he expects nothing to come of it for himself  -- you'll both be surprised where a little selflessness can lead!

"Help me feel sexy"
It's tough to get in the mood when you've got ten extra pounds hovering around your waist and the not-so-subtle scent of spitup on your shoulder. "I gained a lot of weight during my pregnancies," says Paterson. "In order to get interested in sex, I had to feel attractive again." Her husband surprised her with some pretty nightgowns  -- nothing too suggestive, just sexy enough to help her feel desirable.
That was a smart move. So would be offering to watch the kids while you duck out to the gym or for a walk (if, of course, you've expressed a desire to start exercising. Most guys would not score points for suggesting their wives need to get into shape).
And don't look a gift compliment in the mouth. If he tells you that he finds your new curves beautiful  -- even if all you can see are fat rolls and out-of-control mammaries  -- listen to him and take it. After all, it's this womanly body that gave you both the gift of parenthood.