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Breastfeeding Success!! ~ Annemarie's Story
by Annemarie Baker

Annemarie Baker is Dutch and has shared her story of delivering and breastfeeding her four babies . . .

Breastfeeding is different for everybody. So no matter what other people think, do or tell you what and how you ought to be doing it, just listen to your heart. You know best. You are in charge.

As soon I was pregnant with my first child, I just knew I was going to breastfeed my baby. My sister told me that I should always believe in myself and that I could do it. She told me that some doctor told her to stop feeding her first baby after a few months because her milk had changed from white to a clear, almost blue colour. She always regretted that she had listened to him. Later she breastfed her other three children for a long time on the same blue-type milk and they are all healthy teenagers now.

So here I was, ready for our baby and ready to fight the world, if necessary, for my right to do things the way I wanted to do them as a mother. Of course there where a lot of things I didn't know. My sister had moved to New Zealand, (This all happened when we still lived in the Netherlands.) We had moved to the north close to my brother, leaving my parents in the south, and we started our new life as parents without any "experts" near by. (Beside the medical staff of course.) We had planned a home birth with a midwife and things were looking good.

Unfortunately the baby didn't want to engage and because I was past my due date the decision was made to deliver in hospital. Finally, 16 days past my due date, I started labour. It seemed to go fast and my contractions were soon every 5 minutes; time to go to hospital. I was very frustrated that I had to lay down with a big belt around my belly so they could keep an eye on the contractions and the baby. Well the belt really irritated me, so I kept throwing it off. (I bet the staff were very impressed with me!) After 11 hours of hard labour, I started the pushing contractions but unfortunately I wasn't dilated enough (got stuck on 8 cm) and was not allowed to push. Ever tried to stop a hiccup or stop halfway a fart? Indeed. Impossible. So I kept pushing, and they told me not to. After seven hours of struggling like that and a few injections of muscle relaxing stuff, Nikki was born with the aid of a ventause. Apparently she was positioned the wrong way. You can imagine the start she had. Not good. Martin who had held my hand the whole time and helped me puff and pant, who had been my main focus the last hours, had to go with her to the baby-department.

So there I was after a battlefield with no victory. No baby in my arms, but one on another floor in an incubator. I had to have six hours of bedrest before I was allowed up. At 5 in the morning I left my bed and walked all the way to the lift and went upstairs to her floor and walked all the way to her room and saw my little girl for the first time really good. She had a drip, had plasters on her heels and didn't look too good. I was all shaky from my long walk and a nurse gave me a chair. I was ready to breastfeed Nikki but unfortunately Nikki was too sick to drink out of my breast. What a disappointment. So like so many other women, my very first experience of breastfeeding was expressing.

My biggest shock was yet to come. Nobody had told me that first breast milk is actually yellow. Custard coming out of my breasts! Another thing I didn't know was the fact that you have a porous nipple with lots of holes instead of just one. Nobody had told me either that when you start feeding that besides the initial pain in your breast, it really hurts in your belly. Sucking your nipples, means contracting your womb and boy it made my toes curl.

After a day of expressing every three hours and bottle feeding Nikki in the incubator, my milk supply was established. The next day, I woke up with breasts as big as melons half under my armpits and leaking severely. I just had to breastfeed Nikki. So I went upstairs again and said that I was going to feed Nikki myself since it wouldn't be an effort for her because my milk was flowing. Thank God they let me. I was so nervous with that little girl drinking from me, but when Nikki burped and spilled a bit of white milk I was so proud; that was my milk! I made sure the staff knew that I was going to feed on command and they promised me that when I wasn't there, they would call me if Nikki was crying. Together we stayed in hospital for 10 days and when we came home, I was used to handling and breastfeeding a baby.

I fed Nikki until she was 15 months. I was pregnant with Tommy, and we were moving house and Nikki was going to stay the weekend with my parents. A good time for weaning as everybody kept telling me. It's amazing how other people can convince you to stop breastfeeding. "She is far too big for that," "You are pregnant, that can't be good," "You won't have any milk for the new baby," just to name a few opinions. So I stopped and I still regret it.

Tommy came 10 days past the due date ~ a Sunday morning home birth. In the Netherlands when you have a home delivery, you have beside the midwife a maternity nurse to help. Well, things went so fast that the nurse walked in after Tommy was born. So it was really very relaxed with just the midwife there. From the first contraction until I had him in my arms took only three hours. I panicked when the midwife said I was 8 cm dilated and started the push contractions, afraid of the same endless struggle as with Nikki. But I was allowed to push and soon I had a boy laying on my belly. Of course, it was hard work and at the end very painful, but with such a short labour, no reason to complain.

Confident as I was, I started the breastfeeding "as usual." What a surprise it was that it took a few days before my milk was actually flowing good. Boy was Tommy hungry! He only got some glucose-water out of a spoon because it was so hot but no supplements. I'm sure he made up for it, because I fed him the next three months about every two hours.

Tommy decided that he had enough when he was about nine months old. He just looked at the table try to grab a spoon and decided he was going to eat what was on the table. So that was the end of breastfeeding him. He just ate what we ate and he liked it.

When Tommy was nearly three years old, we emigrated to New Zealand. After finding a job for Martin and buying a house and decorating it, I got pregnant. We were happily surprised to find out that I was expecting twins. The first 20 weeks or so, I was spotting quite a bit so I had to have quite a few scans (and frights!). Unfortunately, there was no chance of a home delivery, but I was determined to be in and out of hospital within the day ~ just stay for the delivery.

I should have known better by now. You cannot plan a delivery. It happened to be that Twin 1 was a footling breach. I had to have a Caesarean Section. Because of a low rate of my blood platelets, it was decided that our babies would be born the next Monday at 38.2 weeks. Was I nervous or what? Suddenly it was out of my hands. No longer was I in charge. I felt as if I had failed somehow. The whole weekend I was hoping for my labour to start and that twin 1 somehow would change position. (Who was I fooling?)

Monday came and I was still nervous. After dropping Nikki and Tommy off at school, we went to National Woman's Hospital. My sister would meet us there. The Caesarean would be around 3 pm, so we had a whole day to kill. I was relieved when they finally came to collect me. In the recovery room they got me ready, drip in my hand and epidural in my back. Writing it down like this it sounds really easy, but on the day I was so nervous that I was cold. Not just a little bit cold, but freezing. They couldn't find the vein in my hand, so everybody tried to get me warm. Martin and Marian were taking turns in rubbing my hand and encouraging me. Finally a heated blanket did the trick. When you are pregnant with twins, bending double for an epidural is not that easy. Luckily the people who deal with this are very skilled and before I was getting too uncomfortable, the little tube was in my back. By this time Martin looked a little green. Needles are not his strongest side and certainly not when they are poking in his beloved wife, me. It was a very weird experience not to feel the bottom part of my body anymore.

We had to say goodbye to Marian, because only one support person can come into theatre with you. When they laid me flat on the table, I felt sick. They gave me something for it which made me feel better. My arms were tied down, one with the drip, the other with a blood-pressure band and a heart-beat-clip on my thumb. I felt really uncomfortable laying like that. Then there was a lot of pushing and tugging on my belly. Apparently this was the actual cutting of my belly and womb. The next thing I knew, there was a big sucking sound and a plop and there was Marijke. Unbelievable, a girl. I had thought that the footling breach baby, with such a hard hiccups all the time and a hard head in my ribs, was a boy . . .

More poking, sucking and a plop and there was Jessie. Another girl. Two girls ~ who would have thought that? When they were stitching me up, I could feel a little bit more of what was going on in my belly, so they topped me up with more anaesthetic. Back in the recovery room we were greeted by a very happy auntie. The girls were admired by the three of us, my midwife (who had stayed with me all day) and the staff. I have to say how lovely everybody was in and around the theatre.

When I was asked if I wanted to feed the girls, I experienced the same type of nervousness as the very first time with Nikki. Feeding two babies was a new challenge. But with the help of the people around me, I was soon admiring two sucking babies.

I had heard from other mums with twins that a triangular-shaped pillow is a must for breastfeeding, so I had mine with me in the hospital. After the initial good start, Jessie started to feed more restless. She was sucking a bit and then letting go again, so she never started my let-down reflex and when she did, she was making me very uncomfortable because she wasn't drinking. With Jessie mucking about like that, she wasn't gaining very much weight. I had planned to leave the hospital on Friday, because it was Tommy's birthday, but if she wouldn't gain enough weight, they wouldn't let her go. Luckily she gained a bit by perseverance from me and we left the hospital four days after they were born.

At home Jessie stuck to her bad feeding habit and she started to look skinny. I had to do something. So I started with feeding Marijke, than expressing my other breast and than I would bottle feed Jessie. After a few days like this I started to feel like a milk machine. I bought some Formula and gave Jessie some extra bottles. At least she was gaining weight again. Being tired and frustrated with how things were going, my Plunket nurse advised me to go to a family centre. I didn't have a car but they came and picked me up. It was lovely to be pampered and looked after. I kept trying to breastfeed Jessie, and she kept being difficult about it. A Plunket nurse at the family centre advised me to use a nipple shield, a rubber teat you place over your nipple. Well I tried, and yes, Jessie liked it. Hooray, finally I could feed them together without struggling. Jessie had her first nick name: Silicone-kid. After a few days using the shield, I started taking it off of her halfway through a feed. This worked as well. After a few more weeks she didn't need one at all. So in the end I was feeding my babies normally.

When there was a need for it, I gave a bottle of formula, but that was hardly ever the case. In the end I breastfed the girls until they were 17 months old. Unfortunately they had had enough and refused the breast. As far as I was concerned, I could have kept it up for another year but I wasn't in charge any more!

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