How about some French ooh la la?

After childbirth, French women are prescribed 10 sessions of exercises to strengthen the muscles near reproductive organs – courtesy of the taxpayer.
After childbirth, French women are prescribed 10 sessions of exercises to strengthen the muscles near reproductive organs – courtesy of the taxpayer. ST PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: NEO XIAOBIN

Sometimes,more cash and leave are not enough to nudge birth rates up. Here are some creative measures other countries have adopted to get more babies going.

Despite Singapore's push for lifelong upgrading, one form of adult "learning" has not arrived here yet.

The French call it la rééducation périnéale, or the re-education of the perineum, the area where pelvic floor muscles reside.

Where the Singapore Government subsidises its people to pick up new skills to revitalise careers, the French state pays for a special kind of workout to get new mothers feeling like themselves again as soon as possible.

After going through the considerable physical exertions of childbirth, women are prescribed 10 sessions - courtesy of the taxpayer - of exercises to strengthen the muscles near the reproductive organs.

There, they are put through their paces as therapists guide them in learning to control and contract their vaginal muscles.

For accuracy's sake, electronic probes are used to measure the strength of the contractions and gauge progress. Each session costs between €20 (S$31) and €30, as prices vary across the country.

Those who complete the programme are rewarded with 10 classes of abdominal training to develop a strong core for proper posture.

These efforts are supposed to be the tune-up needed to get back in condition to bear another child.

In Singapore, KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) conducts a pre- and post-natal fitball class that includes pelvic floor exercises. Four sessions cost $161.57. There are no subsidies.

KKH senior physiotherapist Caroline Chua says such workouts speed up recovery after childbirth and are a boost to sex lives.

"Exercising the pelvic floor muscles helps to improve the blood circulation to the perineal area, therefore promoting arousal that will help to increase desire, especially in women," she says.

As the muscles control the bladder and bowel, strengthening them will help prevent incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse that might delay another pregnancy.

"These muscles cannot be seen, but you can feel them working, for instance, when you hold on to your urine or wind," she says.

Proponents of the French scheme have written about their experiences in international media such as The New York Times, expressing their delight at getting to know their bodies on a whole new level, and never having to worry about peeing a little every time they sneeze. And yes, there is the added benefit of getting into shape to wear a bikini as well.

Critics sneer at what they see as a leading sign of the European welfare state run amok.

But no one in the developed world can argue with France's total fertility rate, which was 2.01 in 2014 and has hovered around that number since it rebounded in the late 1990s. It is also far higher than the European Union's 1.58.

Admittedly, that French figure has been attributed to factors such as a conducive environment for mothers to continue working.

But Singapore's total fertility rate, which stood at 1.25 in 2014, needs all the lift it can get.

So, it is perhaps time for the Government to flex its financial might and make mothercare as widespread as childcare.

Ms Chua notes that men can do with some perineum re-education of their own. "In men, exercising the pelvic floor muscles will help to control erection and ejaculation, therefore preventing erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation," she says.

In the name of equality, men should also be encouraged to drill themselves in physical routines that improve stamina and vitality. Dads are cool; dad bods are decidedly not.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 14, 2016, with the headline 'How about some French ooh la la?'. Print Edition | Subscribe