Ladies, I have figured out the real reason that French women are so darn confident.
Four years ago, I gave birth to my first child in France and became privy to a fascinating secret: pelvic floor and vaginal health are incredibly important to the French.
The reason I know that now is because I took part in a program that every woman who gives birth in France participates in called, “la rééducation périnéale”, which translates to, “perineal re-education.”
You’re probably thinking, how much education does my perineum really need? Well, if you don’t want to be leaking a little (or a lot) every time you sneeze or laugh a bit too hard, it’s time to look into getting your masters in mommy-essential exercises.
Here’s how it worked when I was in France: four weeks after giving birth, I was brought into my health care provider’s office and given a little device called a “sonde,” a small device that I inserted into my vagina. This device was connected to a monitor with a cord. My midwife flipped on the screen and then things got really interesting—I realized I was expected to play a video game using my pelvic floor muscles to control all the action.
Nuts, right? But get this, as soon as the game started, it was on. I was hooked, and all I cared about was getting a really high score so I could brag to my husband when I got home that evening.
Why pelvic floor health is vital
It wasn’t until I returned to the United States and learned more about pelvic floor health that I realized that doing your Kegels—or exercising your pelvic floor muscles—is a vital fitness need that we all should be talking about.
Here’s why: the pelvic floor is a basket of muscles that sits in your pelvis, connects to your lower back and core muscles, and is responsible for supporting your bladder, uterus, small intestine, and rectum. Over 60 percent of women will have weakened pelvic floors, especially after pregnancy and childbirth (yes, even C-sections). Even though symptoms may not show up until years later, weakened pelvic floors can lead to serious issues such as stress incontinence, lower back issues, and pelvic organ prolapse (when those pelvic organs can fall out of the body due to lack of support).
The fact that so many women will struggle during their lifetimes with weakened pelvic floors—and that this issue is somehow seen as taboo—is just mind-boggling.
With one in nine women expected to face surgery for pelvic floor dysfunction, training those vital muscles has never been more essential. And it’s an important way to get your post-baby body in shape.
So guess what? It’s time to do those Kegels. Peeing when you laugh, cough, or sneeze is not normal. Having your uterus fall out is not normal (in fact, that one’s downright scary). It’s just becoming accepted as normal instead of being addressed, spoken about, and dealt with properly. Ready to regain control of your pelvic floor post-baby?
How to train your pelvic floor muscles
Find the right muscles
First, let’s find those Kegel muscles. Sit in a chair with a slight curve to your lower back, and imagine stopping the flow of urine. If it’s a little tricky for you, try actually stopping your flow of urine the next time you visit the bathroom. Just don’t make a habit of doing this because you can cause dysfunction!
Once you have identified the correct muscles, breathe in and relax everything. Let your vagina relax and open and let your belly hang out (don’t worry, no one’s looking).
As you breathe out, pull those Kegel muscles together like you did to stop peeing.
Keeping that contraction, imagine pulling those muscles up towards the ribs.
Now breathe in again, and relax everything. Remember, doing the full range of the exercise and making sure the muscles relax is just as important as squeezing them.
Need more help? Watch this step-by-step video.
Here’s a helpful tip: if you are already suffering from a little incontinence (most of us are!), try and think of activating those muscles right before coughing or sneezing. You’ll save yourself a trip to the underwear drawer.
As you practice this movement it will get easier and eventually become second nature. You will find yourself doing Kegels at every red light, as you chat with a friend, and even as you watch your favorite show while nursing your little loved one.
And anyway, why should we let those French ladies have all the fun?
— Julia Rose is a mother of two rambunctious little boys and the Founder and CEO of VaGenie, a modern biofeedback Kegel trainer helping women exercise their inner strength. The VaGenie was inspired by her experience giving birth in France and launched in the fall of 2016. Please sign up on the website to learn more.