30 Nov

Twins: Leo & Isla’s Birth Story

Sharon is a mother of three and an NCT Breastfeeding Counsellor

Imagine our surprise when the sonographer pointed out, ‘Here is the heartbeat, oh, and here is the other heartbeat!’ and there began our very different birth experience. We were already parents to Rosa, now 6 years old, and were looking forward to being parents again. However, this was to be an altogether more complicated event!

We were very keen to have a home delivery with Rosa, and carefully researched the best birth pools on the market. I wanted as natural a delivery as possible. I laboured for the most part at home, but delivered in hospital due to her heartbeat going too high at the last minute. Back home the next day, no complications.

I naively thought we might be able to gun for a similar scenario this time round, but to my surprise, twins were considered ‘high risk’ and I would be strongly advised to deliver in hospital, probably by induction by 37 weeks, and in any case, in theatre. Not what I was hoping for at all. I knew all the risks associated with inductions and managed deliveries (continuous monitoring, more risk of interventions and C-sections) and wanted to do my best to avoid them!

Luckily, I am quite an assertive person so at the many of my antenatal appointments at Royal Berkshire Hospital (monthly scans from 20 weeks for twins!) I clearly set out my concerns to the various consultants and managed to agree to a compromise. Intermittent monitoring and stretch and sweeps to start off with instead of going straight to a routine induction.

Unbelievably, I got to 39 weeks (albeit sporting a giant tummy and unable to move much beyond a slow shuffle) before I finally agreed to be induced. The stretch and sweep hadn’t worked, and the risk of placenta failure after 38 weeks in twin births goes up drastically, so on Monday 15th October I began the induction process at 3pm. My mother was at home looking after my daughter and my husband Jon stayed with me as we waited for the progesterone pessary to take effect.

Nothing much happened initially, so Jon went home that evening and I stayed overnight, contractions not really getting going until later that evening. By the morning, they were much stronger and more regular, and very painful. Unfortunately, despite all this, I remained at 2 cms dilated, so by Tuesday afternoon, it was agreed that my waters would be broken. This really got things underway, and contractions came hard and fast. They were much more painful than I remember with Rosa, but I coped well with gas and air and good old fashioned breathing techniques.

The hospital were careful to remember my wishes and I was able to labour in private with one midwife and my husband, and only have intermittent monitoring of the babies heartbeats. That way, I was able to remain more mobile and hopefully speed labour up a bit.

The last shift change of staff meant that by some strange coincidence, the midwife who delivered our first daughter was with me for the second stage of labour. I reached 10cms and was swiftly taken into theatre for delivery. They tried to put in a spinal block in case I needed forceps assistance or a C-Section to deliver the second twin, but as they tried to put one in, our first twin decided he could wait no longer, and popped his head out!

All I remember at this point was chaos as staff ran around waiting for him to come and decisions were made about what to do if there was a problem with our second twin. Leo Jacob was born at precisely midnight Wednesday 17th October weighing a whopping 7lb 3oz. All was well and he was promptly placed on my chest for some skin-to-skin, before being handed to a very proud Daddy.

Now for twin two! She had been breech during the last few months of my pregnancy, and showed no sign of shifting her position, despite the extra room Leo left for her after his birth, so I ended up delivering her bottom first, much to the surprise of the theatre staff, still only using gas and air! Strangely enough, I felt very much in control at this point which helped me push her out in a rather rapid manner! Isla Estelle was born at 12:15, 6lb 3oz and a little traumatised by her delivery. She was whisked off for some oxygen and got suctioned as she had swallowed a lot of blood. However, she was fine within 5 minutes and went for cuddles with Daddy whilst I was stitched up. I got off rather lightly, I think,with a minor second degree tear.

We were elated by their arrival and were able to stay in a single room to begin to enjoy our babies. Isla took to breastfeeding immediately but Leo wasn’t so interested, and by the middle of the next day, I realised he had quite a pronounced tongue-tie. This meant that he had trouble latching on, and as a result, I had to express my colostrum (a major feat that took an hour for just 1ml!) in order for him to get some sustinence. He was getting dehydrated so the hospital staff were worried enough to keep us in longer, until they were satisfied that he was taking enough.

We finally left hospital in Friday 19th October, with a referral to get Leo’s tongue-tie snipped at a later date.

Looking back, I feel proud that I managed to stand firm and get as close to the birth experience that I wanted. All too often, twins seem to equal unnecessary complications. I am convinced that my positive experience has been beneficial in helping me bond with them, and also succeed in getting breastfeeding established under difficult circumstances. As it stands, it transpired that Isla also had a tongue-tie so both babies had them snipped by an independent lactation consultant at two weeks old and are now doing well. In fact, both are looking very bonny and the frequent feeds have done wonders for my waistline!

Despite the constant feeding, changing what feels like hundreds of nappies and lack of sleep, they really are the most precious gift and memories of painful contractions and hospital drama are fast fading as we look forward to our first Christmas as a family of five!

26 Nov

Fiona’s story of Breastfeeding Twins

As a mum of two already, I knew the benefits of breastfeeding and also of natural birth and wanted both for my twin delivery and well-being when they had arrived. We joined Penny Price’s ‘Having Twins’ classes and made some great friends and learned loads. One class was tailor made for feeding, it was totally un-biased and we all discussed several ideas, different bottles, sterilisers, breast pumps and all our options also having a long session with an NCT breast feeding counsellor who talked about feeding two and showed us pictures and ideas of how to try, should we wish to.

I think if the boys were my first pregnancy I would have taken professional medical advice about delivery and feeding which in my opinion now, would have been a mistake. The Royal Berks deliver 90% of their twins by C section and the research behind this (which I extensively trawled through) is that it’s ‘safer’ to plan and deliver twins by C section. Midwives are also out of practice delivering twins, the less they deliver the less experience presumably they get and it becomes a ridiculous ever decreasing circle. I was very stubborn throughout and insisted I wanted to deliver them and feed them myself but came across very negative medical professionals. As it was they were both breech throughout my preganancy. My Consultant told me that no.1 had to be head down or it’s a non-starter anyway. Harrison turned round and engaged the night before my section… Apparently an impossibility itself and “too late” to change their plans at the RBH. Obviously the Specialist had a round of golf booked at 2pm.

Once they had arrived at just before noon, Harry roared in indignation at being removed and then decided that he couldn’t be doing with this breathing lark, causing mild hysteria and a quick trip upstairs to SCBU. It took the staff about 5 mins to realise he was a total drama queen (like me) and well over four hours (paperwork and procedures) to return him to his anxious mother.

Alex latched on in ‘Recovery’, beautifully, encouraged by a smashing midwife and we admired him for what felt like hours. He had several snuggles and sucked away like he had done it many times.

At about 5pm we were reuinted as a family and I was relieved no-one had given, Harry any formula. He was quite wriggly but we had a go at double feeding. I had my best friend and fantastic doula Ailsa on hand and she propped me up in bed with two V shaped pillows and tucked a baby under each breast (rugby ball style) and we were all happy and comfy. It was frankly a euphoric moment and one I will treasure forever.

We slept like that, I had my catheter in still and a steady stream of drinking water, biscuits and my iPhone so why move? In the morning the midwife was amazed and asked me if I was ok and did I need any formula. We had had a good night, just the three of us. We all drank, snuggled, snoozed and updated facebook. Why would I have needed formula?

I stayed in the RBH for a week which is unusual but the boys weren’t putting on ‘enough’ weight … and I was encouraged many times to give them a bottle. I have to confess to feeling I would be a failure if I did. It got to a point where I just wanted to get my boys home and settle so I tried the bottled milk, I always fed them myself first and then topped up with a weeny dose of the stuff. It worked a treat and we trundled home like a travelling circus of bags, balloons, flowers, buggy.

We managed to breastfeed Alex and Harry for the first six weeks of their lives. I was lucky enough to always have Carl on hand to help, Ailsa my doula ‘extraordinaire’ and a huge circle of family and friends who cooked for us, walked dogs, got our shopping, did the school run and endless errands and jobs.

My advice to any Twin parents would be

  • To prepare in advance and do all the research so you know how to breast feed and where to get help if it gets tricky
  • To get hold of several pillows (V shaped are awesome) and take them into hospital
  • To remember you are not ill (and neither are they) so medical professional may not be the ideal source of advice. You are the parents and most likely your gut feeling is right; join twin clubs and make other twin parent friends and ask them what they have been through and tried.
  • To accept ALL help available
  • Cherish every moment, it’s a unique club and although its hard work I genuinely believe its not all that much harder than a single baby, just a million times more special.

NCT Breastfeeding Counsellors can support you with feeding twins. Call the NCT Breastfeeding Line between 8am and midnight, 365 days a year, on 0300 3300 0700

22 Nov

What does your NCT Breastfeeding Counsellor do for you?

Sometimes I think I have the best job in the world. I meet parents-to-be at the most exciting time, towards the end of pregnancy, and help them to think about what they want for the first days and weeks of their babies’ lives. I find the subject of breastfeeding endlessly fascinating, and could easily fill twice as much time as I usually get to spend with parents antenatally. Since I qualified 3.5 years ago, I have learned so much from the people I work with, and I like to think that my approach constantly evolves and improves to take account of the different decision-making processes used in different families. I have grown to be more accepting of different styles of parenting, and to value parenting in itself, in all its different facets.

At the moment I am very busy facilitating breastfeeding sessions on antenatal courses in Wokingham, Twyford, Reading, Bracknell, Crowthorne and Camberley, and sometimes as far afield as Marlow and Slough.

For the last four years, we have had a weekly drop-in breastfeeding support group at Brambles Children’s Centre. This started slowly but has gone from strength to strength. We see around 350 new parents a year at the group, and have a great working relationship with the Health Visiting Team, who work across the corridor from us at the baby clinic. Unfortunately the Children’s Centre management has decided to close down the group, choosing to direct their funding towards more targeted and measurable working. We are not yet sure if this will involve NCT, but it’s certainly very sad not to be working from Brambles anymore.

I also host the Bumps and Babies group that meets on the first and third Wednesday of the month at the Bradbury Centre in Wokingham. Every other meeting has a speaker or an activity, but the group mainly has a social support function, giving new mums the opportunity to get out of the house and meet people. I’m there to provide breastfeeding support if it’s needed.

Breastfeeding Counsellors can work on the NCT’s national Breastfeeding Line (0300 3300 0700) listening to and supporting mothers and fathers across the country. I usually do three hours a week on the line. I also get local calls from parents I have met on antenatal courses; most days there is at least one call, text or email, and sometimes these turn into home visits. All of this part of my work is voluntary. You may also have seen me on Facebook on the NCT page and Wokingham Gossip Girls, just reminding people that support with breastfeeding is available.

When I started my training, my son was eight months old and not taking well to solid food, so introducing solids has always been a subject of great interest to me. I run Introducing Solids Workshops locally, and I’m part of NCT’s Introducing Solids Team, developing our policy, working on the website and information centre to communicate about the subject, and delivering study days for other Breastfeeding Counsellors to be able to run workshops.

People ask me if this is a full time job, and I can honestly say that there isn’t time for much else, although it isn’t full time paid work. I’m very lucky to have a supportive and understanding partner, as well as support from the local team of antenatal teachers within NCT. Sometimes my job is hard work, frustrating and draining, and it feels like you’re carrying the weight of parents’ disappointment and anxiety; sometimes you don’t do anything at all and not doing anything works for that family; and sometimes it’s the most satisfying and interesting work I could ever imagine doing.

[This post is a description of one working week. These are my views and my words, and I do not speak for or represent NCT]

07 Nov

Book Review: Confident Birth, by Susanna Heli

Confident Birth is an attractive book with a well-argued premise that empowering women with confidence in their own bodies and a good understanding of what happens during birth is a deeply positive move. Heli asks why we should be so afraid of childbirth, when maternity care has never been better; perhaps a quick dip into Birth & Sex would provide some insight: Kitzinger points out that we may have medically safer outcomes, but the psychological experience of contemporary childbirth may be something to fear. Heli focuses on the modern expectation of painless instant gratification in a consumer society, and explores the role of pain in labour, to help women develop tools and strategies for listening to their bodies and making positive decisions.

The first section of the book explores our attitude to pain and childbirth, with some exercises for the pregnant women, and short birth stories to illustrate her points. The second section offers four tools for coping with pain in labour, and the third section offers useful guidelines for the support person.

Confident Birth is aimed at the pregnant woman who wishes to prepare herself for a positive experience of birth. It uses language of empowerment and trust in the body and the instincts. It skirts the mystical, and while occasionally idealising labour (for example, describing it as “something to deepen our emotional intelligence” p.19), Heli does not demonise intervention. The gentle, encouraging tone makes it highly suitable for expectant parents; there is a good clear description of what labour is actually like, including physical and emotional sensations, and what the woman might need at different stages. It would also make an excellent handbook for a birth doula.


To order Confident Birth with a 25% discount, just follow the link and use the discount code KH25 at the checkout.

02 Nov

I’ll have what she’s having: A review of Birth & Sex by Sheila Kitzinger

I bought Birth & Sex after hearing Sheila Kitzinger speak with an energetic passion that belies her frailty, a few weeks ago; the talk was part revision of the history of obstetrics, and many parts eye-opener.

A few days later I read on a skeptical website a description of orgasmic birth as “the ultimate first world problem.” [Deliberately unattributed]: making women feel guilty for not having an orgasm during labour. It’s that familiar argument that informing people about how things could be is mistaken for setting impossible aspirational targets for all women. Throughout the book, Kitzinger dips into history, revealing how birth has become depersonalised, the mother and her needs sidelined, and the only goal a healthy baby.

After a fascinating chapter on genital anatomy and an exploration of sex in pregnancy, she goes on to explain the processes that impact on a woman’s experience of labour. She is not telling women that they should have an orgasm during birth, any more than that they should have an orgasm every time they have sex; but describing conditions which it is often in the woman’s power to create, that allow her to behave spontaneously. In fact the comparison with having sex is instructive, since goal-oriented sex is likely to be less satisfying than loving, fun, comfortable, spontaneous and uninhibited sex, all of which are applicable to birth.

Kitzinger shows how other cultures celebrate birth movements, for example in north african bellydancing; but how the gradual introduction of a bed into the birth environment forces women to accept a more passive role, and has gradually led to a production line approach, “without wasting doctors’ time, and free of any female emotions that might complicate the process.” [p.69]

She goes on to explore the use of language around birth, rooting this right back in the usurpation of female mother goddesses by a male creator, taking the power of fertility away from women. In modern terms, the medical language used to describe birth using the terminology of risk and words like “delivery” put the power in the hands of the doctors. The language used by women following a traumatic birth is significantly similar to that used by rape victims; I have heard examples of this myself and have to ask if empowering and informing women can really be a bad thing.

With a slightly disappointingly small section on breastfeeding, the book ends with a discussion of sex after childbirth and how this might be impacted by a traumatic, violating experience or a positive birth that can enhance the way a woman feels about her own body. Kitzinger also considers the impact of the birth on a woman’s partner and his or her feelings about sex; along with the impact of the transition to parenthood. I love her description of the first year after birth as “chaos and glory” for the couple [p.148].

Birth & Sex does not seek to demonise intervention, but asks for perspective in its use, and reminds us that birth is a complex psychosexual experience with the potential to be life-enhancing. In the prevailing culture, how much choice do women really have? This book takes on one small segment of a society in which women’s bodies are still objectified and their minds still belittled, to an astonishing extent. To deny women this information is to deny them choice and consent in the way they live and labour.


To order Birth & Sex with a 25% discount, just follow the link and use the discount code KH25 at the checkout.