Baby Stuff · Postpartum

My Tongue-Tied Barracuda Baby

Early nursing sucked for me.

Getting started with breastfeeding may be one of the most difficult, unnatural, natural things that I’ve had to do. I say had to, but really, I wanted to try it and then I was driven to keep at it. Not at first though. In the beginning all I thought about was quitting.

I delivered both of my boys at a WHO designated baby-friendly hospital. In order to increase worldwide breastfeeding rates, the World Health Organization and UNICEF got together and recognized hospitals that were offering an “an optimal level of care for infant feeding and mother/baby bonding.” They push the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding in order to earn the designation, but there were things I remember that seemed different from friends who delivered at regular hospitals. I wasn’t sent home with a goodie bag of formula and coupons, I wasn’t handed a pacifier, and the baby roomed-in with me as the hospital didn’t have a central nursery.

I loved delivering at a baby-friendly hospital. I needed a ton of support to nurse, and the regular nurses all had a level of training to help me. There were lactation consultants that popped in to give me extra help when I couldn’t get my son to latch properly.

In the hours after my first son’s birth, a nurse came in and told me she would help me initiate breastfeeding. I can’t remember if he had tried on his own yet, but I had had a c-section and both of us were hanging out under this inflatable raft-like warming blanket. We both had low body temperatures, and instead of putting him in a warmer they stripped him down, made sure my hospital gown was down to expose lots of chest, and then covered us up.

I didn’t realize what “help initiate breastfeeding” would mean. The moment the nurse grabbed my boob, squished it down and told me to hold it like a big mac that the baby needed to bite, I knew my modesty had died a quick death. In having a section I had a false sense of having modesty, by sheer virtue of the baby exiting via my abdomen and not my vagina. I say false, because it’s not like there wasn’t an entire team of people all up in my insides, with my unkept jungle hanging out in the open. I just didn’t see it behind the sterile field curtain.

My baby couldn’t latch very well. He would get it for a second, but couldn’t really stay there. You could see from the outside that he was sliding back. The nurses as well as three lactation consultants worked with me over the next few days to try to fix his latch. He would get it for a minute, and the LC with her tiny stethoscope would excitedly hear the gulp gulp gulp sound that meant he was getting colostrum.

Nursing hurt like hell.

What to the outside appeared like sliding back, or a shallow latch, was more than that on the inside. I felt like I was nursing a tiny shark baby. Over the next three days while I waited for my milk to come in, the baby did all the horrible, gum biting suck of my boobs that he could to bring in the milk. When we hit cluster feeding, he wasn’t just trying to tank up before bed and then letting me rest. He wanted to nurse every thirty minutes all night long. I didn’t like nursing at all.

I felt discouraged by what a shitty start I was having with this allegedly amazing thing. I was waiting for the magical bonding experience of pouring my nourishment into a docile infant who lovingly gazed up at me in appreciation for my sacrifice. Instead, I had a fussy baby who didn’t want to sleep and had shredded my nipples in a matter of 48 hours. The pain in my boobs was intense; consider that I was taking Percoset for the c-section and could still feel it. This affected my early bonding with my son, as I began to dread when he needed to eat.

It was the third day of this hellish experience when one of the LCs spotted the tongue tie while my baby was crying. I didn’t know anything about tongue ties, and I didn’t understand how this could – and did – change everything.

There’s a piece of tissue under the tongue called a lingual frenulum. Normally it releases before a baby is born. When this tissue is there and is too tight, thick, or both, it can restrict the movement of the tongue. Depending on the severity of the tongue tie, it can have a huge impact on nursing.

Tongue tied baby. Photo by Janelle Aby, MD. Stanford Medicine

My little barracuda baby wasn’t trying to bite my nipples off because he hated me. He couldn’t extend his tongue far enough to maintain the suction and his food source was pulling away from him. He was biting with his gums to try to hold the nipple there. He was so fussy and not sleeping because he was starving. Man, did I feel terrible.

Once we discovered the tongue tie I was given a nipple shield and told to use that while my mangled nipples scabbed and healed. The hospital pump was brought in and I began pumping to have my husband finger feed our son colostrum and some formula to keep his weight from dropping any lower. I woke up with my breasts hard as rocks and so enormous that my husband and I could only refer to these monstrosities as my “porn titties.” My milk had thankfully come in.

We made the first available appointment with an otolaryngologist at the same hospital. He told me to hold my baby still. He injected under his tongue with a numbing agent and made an incision to release the tissue. My baby and I both wailed.

At first I was mad that no one spotted the tongue tie sooner. In reality, the condition effects an estimated 4 percent of babies, so it’s not the most obvious cause of nursing issues. I learned after the fact that they tend to run in families. My older brother and I both had them, and my nephew had it as well.

We had a three week follow up appointment where my son had to have a revision when he was about a month old. It’s not uncommon, as the mouth heals quickly. I had been using the nipple shield and had become obsessed with getting off of it. I felt that it was a crutch we were addicted to and it was a failure if we had to keep using it. Clearly, I wasn’t thinking like a sane person. Following the revision we went to see an LC and stopped using the shield that day.

In the best case scenario it still takes time to get into a nursing groove. I’ve had friends who just had the regular pains of getting started say it took anywhere from a week to four weeks to feel like they had the hang of it. With my first, it took us nearly three months to where I felt the rhythm.

It was likely my sheer stubbornness that kept me determined to nurse. I took it a day at a time, and wanted to see if I could get through the first month. I set goals, like get off the nipple shield. Then I wanted to make it to three months, then six months. By the time I hit six months I was in a groove and wanted to make it to a year. There were still times I wanted to quit, but I ended up nursing until my son was 15 months old. I was pregnant again by then and was too sick to eat, so it was time to give my body a break.

If you think your nursing issues could be related to a tongue tie, this Kellymom article can help you sort through it. I would recommend consulting with an LC or three, and schedule an evaluation with an ENT. It made all the difference for us, and I wouldn’t have been able to nurse my baby without getting his tongue tie corrected.






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