Mum-of-two and former Made in Chelsea star Millie Mackintosh is passionate about changing the way we think and talk about C-section births.
As a mum to Sienna, almost two, and Aurelia, five months, with her husband Hugo Taylor, Millie, 32, welcomed both of her babies with C-sections, or abdominal births as she prefers to call them.
WATCH: At home with Millie Mackintosh
Did you know that 33 per cent of women in the UK give birth by C-section? And with April being C-section Awareness Month, Millie is shining a light on this common type of delivery and why a good physical recovery is so important post-birth.
Millie told HELLO!: "People often call a vaginal birth a 'natural' or 'normal' delivery, but then is a C-section not natural or normal?
"I've talked about my births on social media and had a really positive response. People really want it to be talked about more as a normal, natural way to give birth, and not as an inferior option."
Below, Millie shares her birth experiences and opens up about home life with Sienna, Aurelia and Hugo…
Mum-of-two Millie Mackintosh Photo credit: Oda Eide
You're raising awareness for positive abdominal births, tell us about your experiences…
I've shared about my two birth experiences, which have been C-sections or abdominal births. I feel really fortunate that I've had really good birth experiences – I know it's not always the case for everybody.
I think a lot of women are quite scared about C-sections, and if they find out that that's the birth they need to have when they weren't planning on it originally, there can be quite a lot of fear.
There's a stigma around it where people can be judgmental, especially if they think that you've chosen to have a C-section rather than because you've got a medical reason.
People often think of it as quite clinical and scary with a really difficult recovery but that really wasn't my experience and I don't think it has to be like that.
Obviously every pregnancy and birth is different. If you're having an emergency C-section then your recovery and experience might be quite different to mine.
With my first daughter Sienna, she was a breech baby. She was feet-down for the last 10 weeks of the pregnancy, and she just didn't want to move. So the safest delivery for her was a C-section.
I was actually really comfortable with that because I'm such a planner and I liked knowing. It was the safest option and it helped me to feel calmer about the birth. I liked that I could find out what was going to happen, who would be in the theatre and the stages I would go through to meet my baby. I found there was a lot of power in being informed.
I talked to my obstetrician to try to find out what I could do to reduce the chance of infection after birth, and he told me about Pico dressings. He loves using them straight after the C-section on your incision to help promote healing and prevent infection. It keeps the wound really sealed, and it actually felt supportive because it keeps your skin quite taut afterwards. It's like a vacuum around the scar. You keep it on for a week.
After both my births I've had a really good scar recovery, so I'm glad I'd been introduced to Pico. I'm fortunate and did have private care but the dressing is available on the NHS as well if your healthcare provider thinks it's necessary.
Millie wears the Pico dressing
Have you experienced any judgment around having a C-section yourself?
Some people have this opinion that if you have a C-section, you've opted out, you've kind of taken the easy route. But actually, you're recovering from abdominal surgery whilst looking after a newborn, so it's definitely not an easy route – it's just a different way to give birth. Some people don't view it as giving birth; they view it as an operation.
With my second C-section, I opted to drop the curtain and watch Aurelia be born. Using wording like 'abdominal birth', you are still birthing your baby, it's just a different way. My scar is very neat and I'm happy with it, and it's a reminder every day of what my body did.
Was there anything that surprised you about having a C-section?
The first time I was quite nervous leading up to it and I did some hypnobirthing to help me mentally prepare. I listened to a hypnobirthing track every night for weeks before.
On the day I thought I'd be so nervous, but I was amazed by how calm I felt. I was like 'Let's do this! This is the coolest experience, being wheeled into a room and being wheeled out an hour later holding a baby.' It was absolutely amazing, and with Hugo there as well.
The first time, I did find the recovery a bit painful. I always say to people, just take your pain medication as often as you're allowed to, and stay on top of it. Don't try and do too much.
It was a shock to my system: giving birth, having a new baby, the lack of sleep – everything, my hormones. I was very emotional. It took me a few weeks to feel confident leaving the house.
The second time it wasn't such a shock. I felt able to move around more easily and able to leave the house, even within a couple of days. I had to remember to try to take it easy. Having a toddler running around, it was tempting trying to pick her up and I had to be strict with myself and not do it.
MIllie with baby Aurelia Photo credit: Oda Eide
How did you find caring for a toddler while healing from a C-section?
Honestly, it takes a village. I did have help. I had my husband and I have a nanny and my parents came and helped and close friends came over. Accept all the help you can. If people offer, whether it's to drop off some food or put on laundry for you, just say yes and rest when you can.
I'd say the hardest bit is the nights, the broken sleep, feeding every two to three hours. I tried to explain to Sienna, 'Mummy's got a booboo on her tummy – that's what she calls it if she hurts herself.' She's been so interested in Aurelia since she was born. It's a really cute bond.
She's been quite instinctively nurturing towards her and wants to give her kisses. It's just stopping her from squashing baby with the cuddles!
I think I've been quite lucky, I haven't picked up on any jealousy. Sienna's just very excited to have a sister. She runs around shrieking, 'Sister, sister!'
Sienna turns two in May – how will you celebrate her birthday?
We've been invited to a birthday party of a friend who's got a daughter a year older than Sienna, born on the same day. She's having a Frozen party and Sienna is quite into Frozen and loves Elsa. I might actually cheat and just go to someone else's party! They've got a bigger garden than us and an amazing balloon man coming.
I think we'll just do something with me, Hugo and Sienna in the morning – like take her out for brunch then we'll go to this party. I'm quite chuffed with my plan actually. She's not asking for her own party yet. Next year will be different.
Millie and Hugo with Sienna and Aurelia
What are the biggest rewards and biggest challenges of motherhood for you?
The biggest reward I'd say is seeing the bond between them. It's the most wholesome, heart-warming thing. Every day I get to see them interacting, smiling, laughing, kissing and cuddling. That's the best feeling ever.
On the other end of the scale, even though Aurelia is a great sleeper and sleeps every night, Sienna was doing really well with her sleep but she's having a bit of a toddler regression at the moment.
I was in France with them for a week sleeping in the room with both of them and Sienna ended up in my bed every night. Now we're home and it's continuing and it's quite tough. I haven't really got a grip on it yet. I know I've got to keep resettling her, but when you're tired in the night, I just give in to wanting to sleep so I end up bringing her in the bed and Hugo's not loving it! I'm not surprised.
It's really hard because I do want to cuddle her and it's really sweet, like when she was a baby. And now she's older she doesn't want to cuddle much, she wants to run off and explore. It's a battle of wills; she's quite stubborn, she's a Taurus. She knows how to press my buttons and I get more emotional about it than Hugo does I think.
What are your ways to cope or grab me time?
Exercise, going for a run - that really helps me to clear my head. Fresh air, nature, that always really helps, calling a friend – sometimes you just need to have a moan, someone that really gets it. My mum's a really big support as well.
And date nights, going out in the evening and being with other adults and not talking about babies constantly. Get dressed up and not be a mum for a couple of hours, that's really important.
Would you and Hugo like more children in the future?
Who knows? Right now I would say I'm very content with two, and I'm one of two and that's kind of what I'd always imagined. Definitely not thinking about it at all… but I never say never. It's hard right now. Definitely not now! [laughs] Not for quite a while.
I need to see how I feel in two or three years' time but at the moment I feel very content with my family of four because I come from a family of four - I've got one sister. I've got my hands very full, my heart is very full. My time and energy is already quite split. It would be a lot to try and juggle any more right now.
What work projects have you got coming up this year?
I've got a really exciting project that I'm working on at the moment but can't say what it is yet. It's motherhood related and I'm really enjoying working on it. It's coming out later in May.
PICO is a type of wound dressing which provides suction through a dressing, known as Negative Pressure Wound Therapy (NPWT). This draws out excess fluid from a wound and provides a compressive force, protecting the area from contamination to help promote healing/ reduces surgical site infections in high risk patients