Karen Koster: If I need to feed my baby, nothing will stop me
TV presenter and mother-of-two Karen Koster tells Katie Byrne why she believes breast is best
New mothers generally fall into one of two camps. Some of them want to regain their pre-baby body as soon as humanly possible, while others gain a new respect for the human body and are more than happy to take the little-by-little way back.
Despite working in the image-conscious world of television, Xposé presenter Karen Koster falls squarely into the latter camp.
The mother of two is refreshingly unconcerned about post-pregnancy weight gain and adds that she doesn't "give a hoot" about stretch marks.
"You don't mind being a bit fat for however long afterwards because you think 'I've produced this little miracle'," she says over tea and sandwiches in Dublin's Residence Members Club.
Karen has produced two little miracles, both born on unusual dates. Finn came along on New Year's Eve in 2014. John James (JJ) was born just over a year later - on February 29 no less. Her husband, businessman John McGuire, likes to joke that they'll go for Christmas Day and St Patrick's Day next.
Motherhood has changed Karen - in ways she never anticipated. She says she doesn't feel like she's lost any of her identity. On the contrary, she feels like a more rounded person.
"I don't think I've lost anything of myself - if anything I've gained a new dimension," she says. "There might be the superficial thing that I've lost my waistline but I don't really care about that.
"The first few months are tricky," she concedes, "because you're not really telling people you're pregnant so you're thinking 'Am I looking bloated?'
"But then when you start to show your bump, you just feel amazing - I certainly did anyway. There is a sense of 'I'm the first woman ever to be pregnant! This is amazing - you should all bow down - look what I'm after doing'."
It should be noted that the Dutch-Irish TV presenter has every reason to feel this way: she delivered JJ without an epidural.
"It just happened that he was arriving so quickly," she explains. "The anaesthetist was at the door and the midwife said 'No, too late'.
"I said 'Can you promise me that I can do this?' and she said 'You can do this'. Martina was her name and she was like a coach. She was my cheerleader. She was so in control that I felt nothing could go wrong in her hands."
Karen's age - she's 35 - has also played a part in her new-found confidence. "I think, with getting a bit older, I'm not inhibited by leaving the house with no make-up and wearing trackie bottoms. I'm not self-conscious like I was a decade ago."
It's no surprise then that she isn't remotely self-conscious about breastfeeding in public. Karen recently became an ambassador for the 'Breastfeeding Welcome Here' initiative. The campaign is part of the First 1,000 Days movement and it's calling on Irish businesses - restaurants, cafés, shopping centres, etc - to display a mark that lets breastfeeding mothers know they are welcome on their premises.
"Our rates are quite low compared to other countries around the world," she explains. "It's just not seen as normal because we're not exposed to it when we're younger. We're not taught about it in primary and secondary school, and we don't see characters on TV doing it. It's so alien to us."
Karen says she was always open to trying breastfeeding, partly because her older sister breastfed her three babies. "There was no hassle, no drama and no horror stories when she did it.
"So I just had a really open mind about it. I would have thought that I wasn't into it but then when I started, it all began to feel very natural and very normal.
"If it works, it can be very easy but then it can also be very difficult for some people. People have very different experiences of it," she adds.
For her own part, Karen has never had an unpleasant experience while breastfeeding in public and she certainly wouldn't be compelled to stop if she did.
"If my baby is crying and I need to feed him, nothing will stop me," she continues. "When you hear that cry, it's like ever fibre in your being kicks in.
"I've done it everywhere, from park benches to playgrounds to cafés to supermarkets to sitting outside Tesco having a coffee. And I've never felt uncomfortable.
"And if they look, well, keep looking buddy! I'm not going anywhere. I wouldn't be defiant about it but it's kind of annoying that we have to have a campaign like this."
Karen is one of three children while husband John is one of five. "I don't think we'll get to five," she laughs, "but we'd love to go again.
"If we got to three, it would be amazing," she continues. "Still, I'm glad I had two kids in the first part of my thirties because I wouldn't leave it until my forties to try again. I got married at 32 so we kind of knew we didn't want to hang around."
Did she struggle to get pregnant? "No, I was very lucky - but it's such a private thing. I would never ask anyone 'are you trying?' as it's so fraught with emotions and disappointments."
Interestingly, while the TV presenter is enjoying every moment of motherhood, she admits that she didn't become broody until she met John.
"Starting a life with him made me want to have a family with him," she explains. "And I loved seeing how good he was with his nieces and nephews. I knew he'd be a brilliant dad."
The couple met eight years ago at a launch in the Shelbourne Hotel. "I was single and sure, I was turning up to everything," she laughs. "Not necessarily on the hunt for a man but I was out all the time. Mr Right wasn't going to knock on my front door and find me…We had a smooch at the bottom of Grafton Street that night and that was it..."
Has parenthood made her fall in love with him all over again? "You definitely see a different side to your partner when you see them comforting your baby," she smiles. "It's a whole new dimension."
Karen and John want to be "fun but firm" parents. "I don't want to be their best friend and I want them to call me Mum and not Karen," she says.
However, for now, their approach is mostly fun-oriented. "Yes, you go to bed early and you're up early, but you're having craic at 8am on a Sunday morning, that you would have had to have a few drinks to have on a Saturday night," she says.
"Babies and toddlers get a bad rap. People go on about how tiring they are but they're so much fun too."
For more information on the Breastfeeding Welcome Here mark, see first1000days.ie
Karen's top tips for new mums:
• You don't have to let every visitor in. If you just need a day to watch Keeping up with the Kardashians and stay in your PJs all day - do that.
• Go for comfort and invest in proper bras. I just wore underwired and padded bras and I probably shouldn't have. Similarly, for nursing, it's just easier if things clip down and then clip up again.
• I kept little stations of nappies, Sudocrem and nappy bags around the house to stop us having to walk up and down the stairs.
• I took Pregnacare vitamins and I was taking folic acid before we were even married - just in case things happened quickly.
• I've always used an organic hair dye called Natulique, which you can use during pregnancy too.
• A thermometer was always my go-to because Finn was killed with teething - and the Sophie the Giraffe teether was helpful too.
• I moisturised my bump a lot with Creme de Corps by Kiehl's - and I use Kiehl's Baby Gentle Hair & Body Wash on the boys.
• Don't say you'll never use a soother because inevitably you'll have 10 jiggling around…
• What to Expect When You're Expecting was my bible and I used to love the little apps from BabyCenter.