The plan was to breastfeed my son.
For me, there was no alternative. Breastfeeding was something I really wanted to do. My sister had successfully done it ( quite recently too, if I might add ). “So, would I,” I concluded.
Like many parents-to-be, we had attended the free NHS antenatal class ( that was the only antenatal class we were aware of, at the time ).
There, we were told that once babies were born, they would naturally gravitate towards the breast for that first suckle. The wonderful lady that led the antenatal class that beautiful spring morning said this was the case 100% of the time.
Sadly, this was far from my reality!
MY SON’S BIRTH AND MY FIRST ATTEMPTS AT BREASTFEEDING
My son’s birth was complicated.
Immediately he was born, he was whisked away for proper observation and monitoring. As a result, I didn’t see him for a few hours after his birth.
When I finally held him in my hands, all I wanted to do was look at every inch of him and just marvel at the wonder of him. But I was prompted by those around me to nurse him immediately.
I was a bit confused by this prompt. As you recall, I was taught in antenatal class to wait for my baby to naturally gravitate to my boobs.
But since his birth was nothing like we had anticipated, I wasn’t sure what to do. So I listened to the cacophony of voices telling me to breastfeed my newborn son.
So, I did.
Or rather, I attempted to.
Only, he wouldn’t latch!
I tried, again and again, but he couldn’t latch. The midwives tried to help but no one could get him to latch.
I was tired new mum, confused and didn’t know what to do.
The midwives encouraged me to express the little colostrum that came out with a syringe and give it to my baby boy. This, I did.
Later that evening, the midwife, who had stayed all night with me during labour came to see me and tried to help my baby latch but still, he couldn’t.
The next day after the intervention of many midwifes and one in particular, my baby finally latched.
But oh my! It was so very painful!
That was the first shocker! No one told me it was going to be this painful!
Because of an infection during labour and delivery, we had to stay for 5 days in the hospital. Throughout our stay, my baby took about 30 minutes to latch each time.
It was a long tedious process! Always a struggle and always was so painful!
HOW WE DISCOVERED OUR SON WAS TONGUE-TIED
My mother-in-law was the first to notice that he was tongue-tied.
A day after my baby was born, she asked a midwife if he was tongue-tied and the midwife confirmed that indeed, he was!
Up until then, I had never heard the term “tongue-tie” before. So, I had no clue how important that little statement was to my breastfeeding journey.
Days later, a paediatrician came for a routine check-up. I remember asking him if my baby was tongue-tied. He said he was but it wasn’t a big deal afterall, a lot of adults were tongue tied and were just fine.
This was my FIRST MISTAKE – listening to the paediatrician.
We got home and the pain didn’t get any better but in fact worse. I dreaded feeding my son. I dreaded his waking up for a feed and wondered when the pain will ease off as so many people assured me it would.
It never did!
By day 10, I stopped breastfeeding and switched to formula despite admonitions by someone around me not to give up breastfeeding.
But that’s the thing, I didn’t want to give up breastfeeding. Breastfeeding was something I desperately wanted to do but couldn’t under the present circumstances.
It was one of the most painful choices I’ve had to make. I cried many many nights. And my heart ached because I quit breastfeeding so early.
I cannot tell you enough how guilty I felt for not being able to do what I naively thought should be natural to me as a mother.
Furthermore, it didn’t help to have someone constantly berating me for not breastfeeding without trying to understand the extent of the pain, I was going through.
When, I look back at those days now, they were one of the DARKEST DAYS of my new motherhood journey.
WHAT IS A TONGUE TIE?
I’ve gone on and on about tongue-tie but you might be wondering what a tongue tie is.
Many of us know the term, “Tongue-tied” as an idiomatic expression meaning to be at a loss for words. But medically, it actually means something different.
Let me explain it as simply as possible, so you understand it.
A tongue-tie ( also known as ankyloglossia ) is when the strip of skin that holds the tongue to the floor of the mouth is very short.
When you open your mouth in front of a mirror, you’ll see a piece of skin that connects your tongue to the floor of your mouth.
In tongue-tied babies, that strip of skin is very short and makes the tongue’s movement restricted.
As a result, the tongue’s movement within, sideways, and out of the mouth is restricted.
Tongue-ties are fairly common in newborn babies.
Sometimes, it doesn’t affect breastfeeding but many times it does! Mine was one of many times.
Unfortunately, there is not enough research into this and many health practitioners are divided as to the role tongue-tie plays in breastfeeding success.
As a result, many new mums do not get the immediate support they need from the NHS when looking for resolutions to this problem.
That’s why the paediatrician said it was not a big deal.
But, it was! Oh, It was!
At night time, I found myself scouring the internet looking for what could be the cause of the extreme pain I was feeling.
I kept researching reading blogs like this and Youtube videos until I found enough evidence ( mainly other moms sharing their own tongue-tie experiences ) to confirm what I suspected – that my son’s tongue tie was the cause of breast pain and his inability to latch properly.
Now, you are probably wondering what the symptoms or signs of a tongue-tied baby are.
Hang on a bit. I’ll talk about this in a bit.
WHAT ARE SIGNS THAT A BABY IS TONGUE-TIED?
Usually, when you open the mouth of your baby, you would be able to see right off the bat if he is tongue-tied or not.
If his tongue does not lift up from the floor of the mouth or lower jaw. OR when your baby cries, his tongue won’t come off the floor of the mouth. OR he isn’t able to cry out loud enough, then, he most likely is tongue-tied.
The signs you should watch out for while breastfeeding are:
- Clicking sounds made while sucking. I erroneously thought this meant my baby was sucking well and getting enough milk. Boy, was I wrong!
- Continuous, never-ending nursing. Since your baby is not getting enough milk during each feed, it follows that she will be constantly at your boobs looking for more milk.
- Many babies will lose a lot of weight as a result.
- Your nipples will be so sore and tender. Much more than what’s normal. Because your baby cannot bring out her tongue, her gums will bite directly on your nipples making nursing very painful.
- After breastfeeding, you will have lipstick shaped nipples. One side of your nipples will be pointed like a wedge.
- Your baby will regularly fall asleep while nursing. She will be exhausted from all that effort to feed which yielded nothing. So, she’ll just drift off to sleep ( albeit a short nap) to continue the process again later.
- Your baby will be unable to latch unto your breasts or keep unlatching from the boobs.
HOW IS A TONGUE-TIE IN NEWBORNS TREATED?
A tongue-tied baby has to be assessed by specially trained medical practitioners – midwives, lactation consultants, or a paediatrician.
Following assessment, if the tongue-tie is found to be severe enough, then the tongue-tie can be snipped.
This procedure is a simple and quick one for newborns and younger babies. It usually requires no anaesthesia for younger babies.
They may bleed a little but you are usually encouraged to nurse your baby immediately afterwards to soothe your child.
This worked well for both my babies.
It’s said that the tongue-tie can grow back but I didn’t experience that with my boys.
This post gives details about the tongue-tie snipping procedure and all you should be aware of after the procedure is carried out.
Like I said earlier, there is a lack of adequate support for mothers with tongue-tied babies in the United Kingdom. As a result, my son’s tongue-tie wasn’t snipped until he was 7 weeks old.
This was after a lot of back and forth emails and phone calls from myself and my midwife. A really exhausting process for any new mum.
So, my advice to you will be to go private as soon as possible if you can afford to.
At the end of the day, I eventually, ended up mixed feeding. Giving Formula 80% of the time and breastfeeding the remaining 20%. Till, at 6 months, my son stopped nursing and was weaned.
TIPS FOR BREASTFEEDING A TONGUE-TIED BABY
Now I know it’s possible to successfully breastfeed a tongue-tied baby.
It will take a lot of grit and persistence, tearful nights, days when you just want to give up, but it can be done!
In hindsight, I would have done some things differently to enable me to succeed in breastfeeding my tongue-tied newborn.
A year after my first son’s birth, I had a second son who was also tongue-tied.
However, this time I was able to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months. Better still, I am still nursing him at almost 14 months.
Here are my tops tips to succeed at breastfeeding a tongue-tied baby.
#1. READ UP AND PREPARE FOR BREASTFEEDING BEFOREHAND
This was arguably the BIGGEST MISTAKE I made breastfeeding-wise.
I was naive and didn’t realize that breastfeeding was not as natural as the media made it seem. I thought I would just put my newborn to the boob and that would be it.
While a few women find breastfeeding to be a breeze. I’ve discovered that many women do have issues breastfeeding.
I now know that breastfeeding is more of a LEARNED SKILL than a NATURAL one.
So, i’ve made it my mission to encourage all first-time mums I come into contact with to read up on breastfeeding.
Better still, take a breastfeeding class like this one before your baby arrives.
#2. BUY BREASTFEEDING ACCESSORIES
I made the terrible mistake of not buying any breast pumps not even the manual ones.
Someone I know said that she didn’t use hers and it was a waste of money and so I didn’t as well.
If I had bought one before hand, I would have been able to pump and express my milk for my baby instead of hand expressing which was a herculean task and not sustainable for me.
In the end, the money I would have spent on the breast pump would have been worth it as it would have helped me maintain my milk supply till my baby’s tongue tie was snipped and breastfeeding became easier.
#3. RESEARCH ABOUT DIFFERENT BREASTFEEDING POSITIONS AND PROPER LATCH TECHNIQUES
I honestly wished I had researched more about what a proper latch looked liked and the different breastfeeding positions before my baby was born.
With my second, I was able to get a less painful latch using a different breastfeeding position- the football hold.
This was one of the reasons, I ended up not giving up breastfeeding as I did with my first.
#4. GET THE TONGUE TIE RELEASED ASAP
The surgical process for releasing a tongue-tie is called Frenotomy.
If you are having difficulties breastfeeding your tongue-tied baby, I’ll encourage you to have it snipped as soon as possible.
Many mothers (including me) report an improvement in breastfeeding after this procedure was done.
You can ask your midwife or health visitor for a referral to do this free on the NHS. Or you can click here to find a tongue-tie practitioner.
#5. JOIN SPECIFIC TONGUE-TIE SUPPORT GROUPS ON SOCIAL MEDIA
When I realized that my son’s tongue-tie was the cause of my breastfeeding woes, I felt so alone!
No one in my family had experienced this, so nobody could really relate.
Knowing what I do now, I would have looked up Tongue-tie groups on Facebook or handles on Instagram to follow.
There, I would have encountered many mums like me and gotten the encouragement I so desperately needed from them.
One such group on Facebook ( that I’ve since discovered ) is Infant Tongue-Tie UK Parent Support.
It’s a 6,000 member group that will be so beneficial to you because you are where I once was struggling to breastfeed a newborn tongue-tied baby.
#6. LEARN ABOUT BREASTFEEDING ALTERNATIVES
I wish I knew there were alternatives to breastfeeeding.
Hold up. I don’t mean formula feeding.
I mean exclusive pumping- this is feeding your baby breast milk that has been pumped and expressed.
It involves NO LATCHING and seems a lot more work. But it would have enabled me to give my baby breastmilk.
There’s also supplemental feeding and the use of nipple shields.
Did you know that breastmilk bank exists?
Yes, they do!
I was as surprised as you are now when I discovered this was a thing as well.
So there are quite a few options out there if you truly, deeply want to give your baby breast milk.
#7. TRUST YOUR GUT
I wish I had trusted my gut more, pressed the matter harder and been more vocal about the pain I was feeling.
Especially when the paediatrician said that my baby’s tongue-tie was not a problem.
I believe this would have made a massive difference in our final outcome.
I might have been able to get an earlier assessment done and had the tongue-tie snipped earlier than it was. Who knows?!
But it is something I wanted to tell you in case you ever find yourself in a similar position.
Trust your gut, always and speak out!
#8. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO FORMULA-FEED GUILT-FREE
To be honest, I still feel quite guilty that I could not successfully breastfeed my first son.
At least not the way I imagined doing it.
Of course, I understand and know now that it wasn’t any fault of mine.
I think the guilt stems more from the fact that I wish I had prepared better for breastfeeding than I did.
More importantly, though, I wish I had given myself permission to formula feed without the guilt. Knowing that I was doing the best for my baby and myself at the time.
I wish I didn’t allow myself to be guilt-tripped or guilt-shamed for formula feeding by some people close to me.
In case you need it, here am I giving you permission to NOT feel guilty for formula feeding if you decide to.
Your baby will thrive and so will you!
Finally, Remember that Breastfeeding is Great but…
It can be HARD!
That’s the part not usually talked about.
And I’m all about uncovering these cloaked secrets so you are fully aware of what you are walking into.
You need to prepare for it to be successful at breastfeeding.
Successful breastfeeding is possible with the right support, physically and virtually ( through blogs such as this and online forums as well).
If It’s not working for you it’s okay to quit breastfeeding and not feel guilty or let anyone guilt-trip you.
Most importantly, cherish this time and enjoy your new baby. The time goes by so fast!
All the best!