Skip to main content

New mothers, how do we put this delicately? Do your vaginas require re-education?

The French believe they do. A government-sponsored program called la rééducation périnéale, intended to strengthen the pelvic area, is part of the standard, postpartum care for French mothers.

As writer Claire Lundberg describes on the news site Slate (from first-hand experience), sessions involve Kegel-type activities, performed under the supervision and with the help of a therapist, as well as biofeedback exercises, which involve inserting a gadget called a "sonde" into the vagina to monitor the force of one's muscle contractions on a connected laptop.

"You can watch how hard your muscles are working on the screen and even play little video games using the sonde as a joystick," Ms. Lundberg wrote. "I played a Pole Position game at my last session, and a friend played what I can only call Cooter Pac-Man."

(The writer also provides synonyms for vagina that you may never have known existed. A "wuzza"?)

At any rate, the article highlights an aspect of motherhood that's not generally discussed in polite company: getting reacquainted with one's much-altered pelvic region, post-bébé.

"The middle part of my body had bounced back, with even better, bigger boobs!" Ms. Lundberg wrote. "...But what was going on down there, in my, uh, private area? What had once been like an old friend, comfortable and familiar, was now a stranger, or at least that relative you only see once a year on holidays. Our easy banter had suddenly been replaced by strained and awkward interaction."

She notes that la rééducation has been paid for by French Social Security since 1985, and the country remains one of the only places where it's sponsored by the government to encourage women to have sex again as soon as possible, to promote the safety and ease of births of additional children, and to address issues like incontinence and pelvic pain. In an earlier article in The Guardian newspaper, la rééducation was described as something "pour votre mari" (for your husband) and part of the lifestyle of French women.

"French women give birth, drop the baby at the creche, complete a merger and acquisition, seduce their husband with a delicious blanquette de veau and fit into the same jeans they wore when they were 16, all within weeks of labour," Janine Di Giovanni wrote.

Back to the Slate article, Ms. Lundberg points out that Canadians and Americans scoff at la rééducation périnéale as "one of the most lurid examples of the indulgent French welfare state." But she says it works, while in the meantime, in the U.S., there's a lack of attention to helping women get back into shape after giving birth.

Should postnatal perineal re-education be standard practice in Canada?