I never thought I’d be brave enough to share this photo but after much encouragement from friends to share my story, I apprehensively upload it. If it helps one woman get through a rough patch, then it is worth any possible embarrassment. This was me when my little girl, Ollie was three weeks old. I was exhausted, actually I was beyond exhausted. I was a zombie trying to disguise myself as a functioning member of society. I was pumping every two hours to get what little breast milk I had to feed my precious little girl. She had an anterior tongue tie that meant she could not physically latch.
After she was born, I knew something wasn’t right. Her latch felt shallow. “I’m pretty sure she has a tongue tie,” I said to the midwife. The midwife glanced inside my baby’s mouth. “No, no, she doesn’t.” As if I was some silly little girl that didn’t know what she was talking about. This isn’t my first experience of tongue tie, lady.
The next three days in hospital were the worst of my life. I began expressing colostrum. One of the younger midwives was very kind and helped me. While I hand expressed milk, she knelt beside me with a syringe and sucked it all up. My baby was having on average 1ml an hour. That didn’t worry me though as I knew baby’s tummy could only hold only a few millilitres at a time anyway. There was a suggestion of giving her formula. At that time I said “If her blood sugars are low, we will talk about it.” Her blood sugars were fine so I continued pumping every hour on the hour. I was exhausted but I was determined to get through this.
Formula was mentioned another couple of times so I was eager to get the f**k out of that hospital. If I wanted to breastfeed no way was I going to be successful stuck in there, with half arsed support. I knew my daughter had a tongue tie and the midwives were clueless, shoving my daughter’s face into my breast in frustration.
I rang a private lactation consultant who I had a good relationship with through my work as a health reporter. She confirmed that baby had a significant tongue tie and that it would need to be clipped.
We travelled an hour away and paid €200 to have my daughter’s tongue tie clipped. It was the most expensive two seconds of my life. The GP who performed the procedure said that it was one of the worst anterior tongue ties she had ever seen and that my daughter’s tongue was pretty much non functioning.
Those words..non functioning. Meaning my daughter would have had a plethora of problems later on, including her speech. Now, imagine if I wasn’t as well informed and educated and I had been and I had taken the midwife’s word that my daughter’s latch was fine. Imagine I wasn’t determined to breastfeed. I would have given up within the first 2 days. The only reason I was so well informed this time is because I found out my son had a posterior tongue tie when he was 3. I only managed to breastfeed him for 2 weeks. Feeding with his tongue tie caused my nipples to blister, bleed and crack. I cried at the very thought of feeding him.
After the tongue tie was clipped, my baby’s latch was getting better and better. As Dr Jack Newman says “babies learn to breastfeed by breastfeeding.” It was just a matter of time and practice for the two of us. I was continuing to pump still as it takes up to 2 weeks for baby to learn how to latch again.
By 6 weeks she was exclusively on the boob and we were both so happy. I was so happy to sleep again! Instead of waking up every two hours to pump a couple of ounces, I kept baby close in bed with me. When she woke, it was just a case of popping boob out, latching her on and drifting back to sleep.
There is no doubt that tongue tie affects infant feeding. It can affect bottle fed babies too! There is a question over whether lip tie affects feeding but anecdotal and some scientific evidence suggests it might. It needs to be explored further.
Both my children have lip tie. Ollie’s lip tie is pretty significant but it doesn’t affect our feeding, thankfully. You’ll notice the people with significant lip tie immediately, they have a gap between their two front teeth.
The thing is, I’m not angry at the staff in the maternity hospital for letting me down. I’m angry at the whole system. Our health care professionals including midwives, public health nurses, dentists, consultants and GPs all need training on this subject. Too many women are being fobbed off and it is affecting the health of our children. It’s also costing the government €12 million a year! That’s how much we would save if all Irish women breastfed. But, at present we are doomed to fail. Things won’t change until support is increased and training is up to date amongst health care workers.
If my story rings any bells please do not beat yourself up for not being able to breastfeed. Don’t feel guilty, feel angry! You were let down! Once you come to this realisation you can use your own experiences to help other mothers. Breastfeeding is a learned and skill and yes its bloody hard in those first few weeks but it isn’t meant to hurt! No matter what your aunt, grandmother or friend says. If breastfeeding hurt, we would have never survived as a species. Think about it for a second.
If you are having trouble breastfeeding please contact Le Leche League or a lactation consultant.
Without my lactation consultant, I would have never made it to this milestone of six months. The help is out there, go seek it.