I breastfed my first daughter for 13 months.
When my second was born, I felt much more confident about nursing. I knew how to guide my daughter to my breast and how to help her latch. I had no pain and in the hospital, an IBCLC glanced at her nursing and pronounced that her latch looked perfect. I anticipated another easy nursing experience.
The first night after we got home from the hospital, I placed her in her bassinet for bed. She began to scream. I rocked her and tried to nurse. She wouldn’t settle down. No matter what I tried, she screamed every time I put her in the bassinet.
This went on for weeks. We had to resort to a variety of different sleep aids to get any rest because she frequently screamed at night for hours but would refuse to nurse.
She was a strange eater. She would often pull off my breast, screaming, while I sprayed milk in her face. She ate quickly. She was very gassy and fussy. I came to believe—based on a lot of reading—that I had an overactive letdown and a fast flow that she struggled with.
I brought all of this up with my pediatrician, who wasn’t concerned. I attended a local breastfeeding support group where I explained her symptoms, but no one had any explanations.
I was exhausted. I felt very isolated and alone. I had trouble feeling any emotions for the baby besides resentment. I was clearly veering into postpartum depression territory.
We tried to introduce a bottle when she turned six weeks. I had already been pumping for two weeks. I gave my husband the bottle and went upstairs. Minutes later I heard screaming. She absolutely refused the bottle.
Week after week, we tried the bottle. I kept pumping. We tried tons of different bottles, different nipples, different milk temperatures. Nothing worked.
Finally, we used something called a Medela SoftFeeder, which was like a little spoon to deliver milk. That was very messy, but at least she would take milk from it, which led me to think that this wasn’t bottle refusal, but something more serious.
I took her to my local breastfeeding resource center to seek help. The IBCLC noticed that she had a high palate but could find nothing else to indicate an issue. She gave me some tips for working on a bottle, but none of them worked.
Finally, after another support group meeting at the resource center, I asked another IBCLC to check my daughter again. Very quickly, she identified a posterior tongue-tie.
Tongue-tie is something a baby is born with when the bottom of the tongue is tied to the bottom of the mouth by a band of tissue. Tongue-tied people might have trouble sticking their tongues out. It can affect eating, speaking and swallowing, and therefore breastfeeding.
Babies who have tongue-tie often struggle to gain weight because they do not eat properly. Their latches usually do not look correct. Their mothers often have nipple pain when nursing.
Our pediatrician confirmed the diagnosis, but suggested that tongue-ties are just a fad.
The fact is that tongue-ties have been identified as far back as Aristotle’s time in Ancient Greece. He once said, “The human tongue can roll back and dark forward in all directions; and herein to its freedom and looseness assists it. This is shown by the case of those whose tongues are slightly tied; their speech is indistinct and lisping, which is due to the fact they cannot produce all the sounds.”
Dr. Bobby Ghaheri, a modern tongue-tie expert, is quick to correct anyone who believes tongue-ties are a fad. He explains that tongue-tie is genetic and that more women breastfeed now than they did even a decade or so ago, which explains the apparent “rise” in the disorder.
The moment her tongue-tie was discovered, I made an appointment with pediatric dentist.
The dentist explained that our daughter did not exhibit the classic signs of tongue-tie. She gained weight because of my overactive letdown and fast flow. However, she was living on that letdown. She was able to get enough in those early weeks, but eventually as my supply regulated around four months, she would have struggled to nurse and started to lose weight. If she wasn’t nursing properly, my supply would eventually have dwindled. Her tongue-tie was severe enough that she was unable to latch onto a bottle nipple, so if we had waited, I’m not sure how she would have eaten.
He explained that she may also have faced issues down the line with speech and eating solids, which I definitely wanted to avoid.
After our consultation, we swaddled her tightly and sent her back with the dentist to have her tie lasered. The procedure took three minutes. She came back screaming, was placed in my arms and immediately latched properly. I instantly felt the difference. For the first time, my daughter was fully sated.
The laser frenectomy fixed the tie. We had to do stretches on her tongue for two weeks after, but our nursing relationship went smoothly from the moment she had the procedure. Two weeks later, she took a bottle without issue.
I wish I had caught the tongue-tie earlier. I have a lot of lingering guilt about how hungry my baby was for the first 3.5 months of her life. I still feel awful for how resentful and angry I was about her constant crying. So for us, the tongue-tie revision saved our nursing relationship.
It is important for all nursing mothers to understand the common (and less common) signs of tongue-tie. Breastfeeding should not constantly hurt. It’s also important to understand that not all nursing issues are caused by ties and that not all ties are as severe as my daughter’s was.
I was very lucky that I knew what tongue-tie was and felt comfortable advocating for my daughter and myself.
As parents, we all need to learn how to trust our guts, do our research and find the answers we need to solve the problems.