My doctor hasn’t said anything yet, but based on my friends’ horror stories, I know better: I need to do Kegels exercises – you know, ‘squeezing’ my pelvic floor – throughout pregnancy. And afterwards. All the time.
And if I don’t, I will surely pee myself every time I sneeze.
But in France, it seems that women, their doctors, and the state government have a different attitude about Kegels entirely. In fact, the French government is so dead-set on women doing their Kegels that there’s an entire government program centered around the practice – known as la rééducation périnéale après accouchement (perineal retraining after childbirth), or la rééducation for short. Yes, really.
The reasons for la rééducation are complex, but there are several motivations: Kegels don’t merely prevent pee escapes and help keep women healthy; they also enable a woman to return to lovemaking faster. You know, so she can satisfy her husband and get pregnant again more quickly. Again – yes, really. French women, after all, have the highest birth rate in European (2.1 babies).
La rééducation has been paid for by French Social Security since 1985. Every French woman is entitled to ten free sessions, which involve “an extended course of vaginal gymnastics, complete with personal trainer, electric stimulation devices and computer games that reward particularly nimble squeezing” (as so eloquently put by this New York Times article). Afterwards, a woman’s doctor may recommend further sessions or even personal training sessions to strengthen the abdominal wall.
“Frankly, I’m happy there’s a medical professional paying attention to what happened down there. Rééducation périnéale gets scoffed at in American and Canadian publications as one of the most lurid examples of the indulgent French welfare state, but as far as I can tell, we do exactly nothing in the United States to help women get back into shape after giving birth… An American woman gets her six-week postpartum checkup and, if nothing is seriously wrong, she’s cleared to have sex again and sent on her way. If she’s lucky, the doctor or midwife reminds her to do her Kegel exercises, but without much guidance. Meanwhile, at least in the experience of many of my friends, she may still be experiencing a variety of symptoms that, while not medically serious, sure are annoying, embarrassing, and strange, and not at all conducive to reinvigorating her sex life… Americans’ lack of attention to the female body after giving birth is our own version of the modesty gown or the word vajayjay; we’re covering our eyes and pretending there’s nothing there to see, until it can no longer be ignored.”
While there are no extensive studies on the effectiveness of la rééducation, Lumberg writes that smaller studies show that la rééducation “significantly reduces incontinence and pelvic pain at nine months after giving birth.”
My vote? I think it sounds awesome! I have an app on my iPhone called Kegel Camp and try to do it regularly, but I would be thrilled to receive 10 free Kegel sessions from my doctor – even if it was a bit embarrassing.
What about you? Would you go to free government-sponsored woo-ha strengths classes?
Photo: J.M. Schomburg