Knotty Nursing: Why My Baby Could Not Breastfeed
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What a topic to discuss. Breastfeeding has been around since the first baby was born. You would think we would be professionals at it, but sadly, many mothers are not prepared for the challenges they could face with breastfeeding.
I had my first baby a little over a year ago and I had every intention of breastfeeding her for as long as I thought necessary. Six months was my goal, to be perfectly clear. I realize longer is ideal, but I didn’t know what to expect at all so I thought I was setting a good goal to reach for.
When my daughter finally arrived (you can read her birth story here), we had a little sign on her hospital bassinet stating that she should not receive formula or pacifiers, and that she would be exclusively breastfed. Little did I know she would not be able to.
I attempted breastfeeding within 10 minutes of her birth. Many babies latch perfectly for the first time while many need a little help learning how. I hoped Evelyn just needed to learn how, but when the lactation consultants (LC) would assess our feeding sessions, they said her latch seemed fine. I knew there was a problem because they reassured me that it should not be painful. Well, I assure you, it was painful. They thought I was being dramatic when I said it felt like she was trying to rip my nipple off. It took another opinion to finally learn that the pain I was experiencing was common in mothers whose babies are tongue tied.
With more than 3 million US cases per year, you would think there would be a higher awareness of tongue tie, also know as ankyloglossia. This is what prevented Evelyn from being able to properly breastfeed. Thankfully, one of the sweet lactation consultants at the hospital noticed my daughter’s tongue tie the day we were being discharged. We almost left the hospital unable to breastfeed and unaware why.
Some mothers describe the pain as hot knives stabbing them. That’s not what breastfeeding should feel like.
Evelyn actually drew blood the first time I tried to nurse her. Yeah, no one warns you about these things. I thought to myself if this is breastfeeding, then we’re done now. The nurses don’t know as much as the LC so their remedy was to slap a nipple shield on me and that was that.
This didn’t help at all. The next day I was allowed to use one of the hospital’s pumps so that Evelyn could still receive breastmilk while we weren’t nursing. We used syringes to finger feed her and she didn’t mind one bit. This is good way to keep your baby from getting nipple confusion (yes, that’s a thing) and keep your milk supply up while you work toward proper nursing skills with your baby. If you go straight to giving baby a bottle, it can create lazy feeding habits and discourage baby further from learning to latch.
My husband would feed her and even he could tell her jaw was clenching tight as she sucked on his finger. Now imagine that being your nipple. Lovely.
Evelyn was born Monday evening and we were released from the hospital on Wednesday. The moment we learned she was tongue tied we made an appointment with a dentist (no, they don’t have people at the hospital willing or able to correct tongue tie – that would make too much sense) to have a procedure done to correct the issue.
They couldn’t get us in until that Friday, and even then, they were only planning to see us for a consultation. I begged that they squeeze us in for the procedure and they were kind enough to make it work. I was so thankful because I knew the longer Evelyn went without breastfeeding the harder it would be for her to learn how.
We took her in on Friday morning to have the tongue tie clipped. They numb the area with a shot and it’s really a simple procedure, but let me tell you something – it was the hardest thing I’ve ever watched. Aaron and I had to hold her down while she cried and blood went all over her face. I was already an emotional wreck from having a baby (your hormones go absolutely wild) and now I felt the first punch of mom guilt for letting someone mutilate my baby.
The procedure was quick and went well. I held it together until everyone left the room. Then I cried more than Evelyn even had. We took her home with instructions to do little tongue exercises while the area healed and tried to nurse each time she needed to eat.
It just wasn’t happening.
It got to the point where Evelyn would be so frustrated trying to eat that she wouldn’t calm down as long as we were trying to nurse. We eventually would resort back to finger feeding after about 30 minutes of trying to nurse because she just needed to eat.
Unfortunately, breastfeeding still didn’t work out for us. She never was able to latch even though I went back to visit the same LC that had discovered her tongue tie for help. Don’t get me wrong, the lady was helpful, but Evelyn was just not getting it and I knew she needed to eat more than a little syringe-full at a time. Aaron and I made yet another difficult decision and gave her her first bottle (don’t ask me what day – I didn’t even know my name at this point).
I continued to pump for several months and hated every session of it. It was uncomfortable and so demanding of my time, but that’s a story for another post. Evelyn ended up getting breast milk for about 4 months. It was all I could take after being attached to my pump every two hours every day (and night).
All this to say, the mother is not always the reason nursing doesn’t work out. I had a great supply, even an oversupply at first which is what allowed me to give Evelyn a freezer stash of milk for the last several weeks of her receiving breast milk. I still managed to feel like a failure when I couldn’t feed my own daughter.
If you think something is wrong with your nursing experience, don’t stop until you find the answer. Breastfeeding should not be torturous and there are people out there that can help you find out what the problem is.
I just wanted to get our story out there so that more people are aware and know what to look for if they are experiencing difficulties breastfeeding.
You can learn a little more about tongue tie here.
If you suspect your baby is tongue tied contact a lactation consultant. Their services are often free through a hospital. Even if you don’t plan to nurse and your baby has tongue tie, it can be worth it to get the corrective procedure done if it is severe.
Until you find your answer, nipple shields can be helpful in helping baby to latch. However, the reason I would not jump to this remedy is because you will eventually have to train your baby to latch without it anyway. It causes yet another bad habit because baby gets so used to a plastic nipple.
Of course there are many other reasons why breastfeeding doesn’t work out for so many moms but I’m confident more mothers would succeed if they were educated on the causes and fixes. I think we could afford some better support once our babies are born as well (at least from my experience, in the hospital). It shouldn’t take days to correct a breastfeeding issue when a newborn needs to begin nursing immediately. (In other words, I believe there should be measures you can take in the hospital to correct tongue tie so you don’t have to wait nearly a week to make the correction.)
I hope this is helpful to some mothers out there or soon-to-be mothers. If you want to breastfeed your baby, do research before baby arrives so you feel confident you can take on whatever may come. I did tons of research on birth while I was pregnant to prepare myself but I had no clue what to expect once my baby arrived. Now I realize it’s equally important.
Thanks for reading and happy nursing!
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Below are some products that can help tremendously while breastfeeding/pumping. I recommend them all as I used every single one of them.