As well as coping with changing roles, women go through fears about changes in their bodies and it’s common to feel as though you’ve lost your sexual attractiveness. Four months after Julie had a baby boy she said, ‘I really put on a lot of weight this time and I haven’t had the energy to get back into any exercise. I’ve got this roll of fat on my abdomen, my hips are wider than they’ve ever been and there are stretch marks on my breasts. I can’t stand even looking at myself in the mirror, let alone undressing in front of John. We make love from time to time but it’s strictly a “lights out” policy at the moment. If we do it during the day, I pull the sheets up to my neck and there’s no way in the world that I’ll get undressed in front of him or shower with him until I get myself back into shape.’ Hard as it is to get motivated, the sooner a woman gets back to some regular exercise the better – physically and psychologically.
One type of exercise that is essential in the early months is designed to tone up the muscles stretched by the baby as it makes its way down through the pelvis. The pelvic floor muscles are the ones that are stretched out during childbirth. They are the ones that contract if you are passing urine and you try to stop the stream. Apart from tampons falling out or leaking urine every time you laugh or cough, a weak pelvic floor has other drawbacks. It can interfere with enjoyment of sex. Women with strong pelvic floor muscles are more quickly aroused, feel more sensation during intercourse and find it easier to orgasm. Specialized exercise classes are available to teach women how to tone up the muscles, and the instructors always tell you to practise hundreds of ‘squeezes’ every day … at the kitchen sink, in the supermarket, at the traffic lights. It can take a couple of months to get them toned up and because the results aren’t as obvious as other fitness programs, it’s easy to lose interest. A friend was disappointed at her husband’s lack of appreciation. After weeks of tedious ‘squeezing’ she felt confident enough to try out her new muscle strength on him. At a crucial moment she gave a really big squeeze and said, ‘How did that feel?’ He stopped still and replied, ‘How did what feel?’ Well, that set the training program back weeks.