Two babies, both tongue tied - one mamma’s breastfeeding journey

Author: Laura Mason

When I was pregnant, I did not read very much about life once the baby was born. I had the app that compared my growing child to a piece of fruit and had been told about the ‘wonder weeks’ I would need to look out for but that was about it. I decided fairly early on that I would breast feed. I felt like I had read enough about the benefits to choose this option, assumed that I would just know what to do and naively believed that was all I needed. I thought if it was such a normal part of being a mother, how hard could it be?

When my darling boy James was born, they popped him in my arms and commented within the first few minutes “he’s got a pretty obvious tongue tie”. I had no idea what this meant. It was a term completely unfamiliar to me. My husband knew exactly what it was. He’d had one as a boy. He remembered quite well how it had impacted his speech and the day that he tore it on a peach pit.

In case you don’t know, a tongue tie is defined as “a condition that restricts the tongue's range of motion.” Sounds pretty straight forward, right? What they didn’t tell me that morning was just how horrible said tongue tie was going to make my early breast-feeding journey.

I remember many times after our first feed thinking “Is his mouth opening like he’s taking a bite of hamburger? Is this right? How do I make it open wider? How long should he feed for each time? Should it hurt? Why is this so hard? Is he really hungry again? When will this be over?”

Each midwife I saw told me that it shouldn’t hurt when he’s on correctly but that his latch looked great. All I knew was that it took forever for him calm at the breast and that it hurt no matter how many times I took him off and reattached him. He was at each breast for 45 minutes every single feed. It basically meant that I would get an hour’s rest in between each feeding session. I was exhausted.

Although I was in awe of my son, the first 48 hours were brutal. James screamed almost non-stop when he was awake. He was the loudest baby in the hospital room that I shared with three other mums and babies. I remember crying along with him most of the night and a wonderful midwife reassuring me that this was all normal and that his constant feeding was his way of bringing my milk in.

Now that I have the beauty of hindsight and a second baby who was not impacted so severely by his tongue tie, I know that James wasn’t latching correctly because of his tongue tie and that’s why he was screaming so much. In essence, he was starving even though he was feeding for over an hour each feed. It was also the reason I had severe grazing and gashes on the sides of my nipples. The pain was excruciating every time he latched, and I started to dread that newborn cry signaling that it time for a feed yet again.

I saw a lactation consultant on the morning I was due to go home, and she gave me a nipple shield to help with the damage caused by feeding. She is the main reason I was able to breast feed after I left the hospital. The shields dulled the pain and allowed me to keep going with breastfeeding.

Poor James had to work extra hard to draw milk and the result was huge engorged breasts when the milk finally arrived on day three. This made it even harder to feed. Again, I spent the night crying and wondering if this was normal and if I should just give him a bottle of formula to give myself a rest. Thankfully I was able to call a breastfeeding hotline at 2am and the lovely woman on the line again reassured me that everything that was happening was totally normal.

Over the next several weeks I had appointments with midwives, lactation consultants and speech pathologists to discuss the tongue tie. I spent many hours googling treatments and how best to tackle the problem. What I found is that like with all things babies - there was no clear answer. Some people said cut it, others said leave it and it would sort itself out.

After some consideration we decided to have his tongue tie cut. My husband didn’t want him to have issues with speech as he grew, and I wanted to breast feed without shields. His tongue tie was cut by a pediatric surgeon when he was five weeks old. It was all over within 30 seconds and after a shield free breastfeed, we went home motivated to breast feed once again.

There was still some damage caused and the hardest night I can remember of those early weeks was the second night after the cut. He had once again grazed my nipples and I was determined to get through the pain of each feed without reverting back to the shields. My grandmother was staying with me because my husband was away in London to see family urgently. She watched like a hawk while I fumbled at my own breast and constantly told me to give James a bottle because he was screaming due to hunger. I didn’t have any formula in the house and am actually grateful for it now. I definitely would have given him some and my breastfeeding journey may have ended that very night.

The uncertainty and doubt in my ability to feed James was unprecedented. In the end I politely asked her to leave us alone and did it my way. I cried while he fed but got through that feed. When he woke at 4am I was concerned but felt better already after a solid couple of hours sleep. That feed is my most treasured memory of those early weeks. It was just James and I, completely silent doing what was supposed to be so natural and for the first time, it felt natural. My husband called just as we were finishing up (thanks to an incorrect time difference calculation) and it was so lovely to tell him about our first successful feed without the shield. I went on to breast feed James until he was 14 months. It was something that I will always treasure because it was something that only I could do for him. I’d also had to work bloody hard for.

When my second son was born a month ago, the same familiar tongue tie was present. This time I knew what to do. I got the help of the midwives and lactation consultants again to remind me how to feed a newborn - it’s quite different to feeding a toddler. I was less stressed out and more patient and although it was painful for the first few days, it quickly improved. We had his tie cut at two weeks and love our special time again. I forgot how frequently they feed in the first few weeks, but I know I will blink, and it will be over again. He may well be my last baby so I am enjoying it all as much as I can.

My advice to any mums who think their baby has a tongue tie is to get advice from many people and follow your instincts. I am not a health care professional and am in no way endorsing the treatment we chose for anyone, but it was the best thing we could have done from a breastfeeding point of view for our son. Breastfeeding for as long as I did is one of the things I am most proud of.

Thank you so much for reading and keep on keeping on xx

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