On this day one year ago I uttered to myself “I’ll give it another month, then I’ll give up breastfeeding”. It was hard to hear those words coming out of my own mouth. Actually, it was devastating. You see, breastfeeding had been a challenge from day one. And 17 days later, there was no sign of improvement.
The nurses at the hospital kept saying it was the way I was holding him, and that my screaming, tense and unhappy baby was normal and that I was the one who needed to relax. It sure didn’t feel normal. “He’s hungry” I kept saying. “He’s not getting enough milk” I pleaded. “I need to give him some formula!” ”Your baby doesn’t need formula. He needs you to step up. You HAVE to feed him” said one nurse condescendingly, as if I wasn’t trying my heart out already. “Here, do it this way” she commanded as she grabbed my nipple and shoved it into my baby’s mouth. He sucked for a few minutes and fell straight to sleep and slid right back off the nipple, then woke in a tense and angry burst. “He just won’t stay on. I can’t seem to do this. He won’t feed right.
My nipples are bleeding. My baby is hungry. I just want to give him I bottle.” I blubbered. The nurse agreed reluctantly and disapprovingly handed me a bottle.
It was day three. I was an exhausted first time mum, fresh out of a surprise C Section, with minimal mobility and waiting for my milk to ‘come down’ in the hopes that would help fill my baby’s tummy. “Have you tried using a pillow?”, “Squeeze some milk on your nipple so he can smell it”, “Put the nipple under the nose”, ” Brush his top lip with it”, “Hold your nipple with your thumb and forefinger and shovel it in his mouth”, “Try a football hold”, “Try cross cradle hold”, “Try standing on your head whilst juggling 3 elephants and a monkey…” You name it I tried it!! I tried EVERYTHING everyone suggested and he would still slide off, scream in agony and mutilate my nipple.
By day 7 my milk still hadn’t fully come in. I was dozing in my hospital bed whilst my baby had his first check up by the pediatrician. “He has a slight lip tie, but that shouldn’t affect anything.” She told my husband. We opted to stay in hospital an extra couple days because of my lack of milk, the fact I was still very sore both from the operation and the nipple trauma. I was also very exhausted and my baby was unsettled, tense and far from content. Yet, the whole situation was still ‘normal’ and no medical professional thought any of this was untoward. By this time I was pumping around the clock to try and increase supply. We were bottle feeding and alternating between breast milk and formula, which I dreaded having to ask the nurses for as I always got the whole ‘breast is best’ and ‘have you tried this, that or the other thing?’ I already felt horrible enough that couldn’t feed my hungry, screaming baby, I didn’t need the constant third degree from the midwives at the nursery EVERY time I needed a bottle-which was very regularly. I was well read and intelligent. I knew breast milk is superior. I knew breastfeeding is natural. I knew it’s important to keep trying, but my kid was screaming and wouldn’t settle and his tense, uncomfortable and stiff little body was breaking my heart.
It felt so far from the normal they kept saying it was, that I didn’t know where to start. He wouldn’t sleep unless he was sucking on something or being rocked vigorously on my husband’s forearm with his palm putting pressure on his tummy. He would tense up his whole body and cry. He wouldn’t relax. He would take hours-and I mean HOURS to complete a feed. Sometimes he’d be at the breast on and off for upwards of 5 hours at a time, but never actually completing a feed. I remember reading: ‘some babies take a while to feed at first. Some can even take up to 45 minutes to complete a feed.’ Ha! I’d kill for a quick 45 minute feed! I REFUSED TO BELIEVE THIS WAS ‘just’ MY SON. THAT THIS WAS WHO HE WAS. THIS WAS NOT NORMAL. And my little boy was making that abundantly clear.
When we got home I researched like crazy. Colic. What causes colic? So many mixed answers ranging from “nothing-it’s just something some babies have” to “the amount of air swallowed through the bottle” to “food sensitivities relayed through breast milk” to “lack of good gut flora”. We bought special anti colic bottles and anti colic formula. I overhauled my diet. No milk. No gluten. No chocolate or refined sugar. No orange juice. No broccoli or other crucifers. I bought the best quality probiotics for both of us and we smashed into them. I even bought fenugreek and Boobie Bikkies to help increase my supply. I was going to tackle this from all angles. I was not going to give up. In amongst all of that, one thing kept in my mind. The ‘slight’ lip tie. I researched further and asked to join a wonderful group on Facebook called Tongue and Lip Tie Support Group Australia.
Here, I asked every question I could, and was pointed in the direction of some incredibly life changing literature.
I finally found a lead. I text my cousin, a dentist, some pictures of what I thought were my baby’s ties and within days of us getting home from hospital, she organised with her boss and clinic to get us in for a consult. Not only did my little baby have a lip tie which affected his being able to flange the upper lip and latch, but he had a tongue tie too, which affected his ability to suck the nipple and take it deeper into his mouth. His latch was incredibly superficial so he was sliding off easily and not sucking effectively. This caused him to swallow excess air, causing him a sore belly and all of that colicky behaviour. All this lead to painful, bruised and bleeding nipples on my part and a reduced supply of milk. I was only lucky it didn’t develop into mastitis or anything more sinister. The solution? Cut the ties via laser. We discussed our options and the pros and cons of treatment versus the pros and cons of leaving them untreated. We went home with a lot to think about, but the answer was clear. Cut the ties. ASAP! In the space of a text message or two, we booked in to have the procedure a week later.
We gave our baby a dose of Panadol and set off to our appointment.
“I’ll give it another month. And if it still doesn’t improve, I’ll stop breastfeeding!” I muttered to myself on the drive. We were the last appointment for the day. My cousin, her boss and another cousin of mine (also a dentist) greeted us. There was an air of anxiety about the room, as our baby was the youngest patient they had done the procedure on at 17 days old. Everybody explained their part in the procedure and what the sequence of events would be and it was decided that I would wait outside, while my husband stayed with our son. I waited in the waiting room to my son’s cries. Despite my anxiety, I was stronger than I thought I would be. I just kept thinking of the bigger picture: in the shorter term; a long lasting breastfeeding relationship and EVERYTHING amazing that is associated with that. And in the longer term; more effective jaw development and less of a chance for speech problems, craniofacial pain and future orthodontic issues. Finally, my cousin came out. It felt like an eternity but was only really half an hour or so. The procedure went well and it turned out that his lip tie was ALOT more severe than slight. I immediately put my stressed and sobbing baby on the breast. Already there was a huge difference in latch. He calmed down within a few minutes and fell asleep.
That night we had him dosed on Panadol and in the days that followed we diligently followed our stretching routine and post procedure checkups. The struggle wasn’t over yet. Whilst feeding had improved dramatically, it still wasn’t easy or consistent and we were still having to top up with bottles of formula. We did plenty of skin to skin, suck training and other activities to help him re-learn how to use his tongue and mouth. “I’ll give it another 6 weeks. And then call it” I said. By then he would be 12 weeks old and we would’ve seen the full extent of benefits from the procedure.
In all my research into ties, the most successful outcomes came with some degree of osteopathic or chiropractic care. By chance a colleague of mine mentioned that she took her little girl to a great chiropractor who specialised in babies. I made an appointment. We made it to our first session, late because our baby wouldn’t stop crying unless he was on the breast. He wouldn’t come off the boob without screaming the house down. In between sucks, the chiropractor was patient and gentle and made a thorough assessment, finding many kinks to iron out. A huge one being the fact he couldn’t open his mouth more than half way. His chiropractic care started straight away and continued twice weekly for a few months. At every appointment my tense baby would be attached to my boob before, (sometimes during), and immediately after his chiropractic sessions. It was pretty much our way of life.
The weeks passed relatively quickly. “Well! Look who isn’t attached to mummy’s boobie today?” said our chiropractor at one appointment. He wasn’t. In fact he hadn’t been for at least 1.5 hours, and was fine. Perfectly settled. That evening, finally, at 10 weeks, whilst feeding my baby, he drained one breast and then the other. In half the usual time! No fussing. No falling asleep. It wasn’t until I paused and looked back, did I realise how far we had come. It crept up on us but there it was, SUCCESS! Within the next week, I had cut out ALL bottles and was EXCLUSIVELY BREASTFEEDING! For the first time since birth. We made it.
Today marks a year since I uttered those devastating words to myself. My baby is a couple weeks into his second year of life. He is just over one. And there is no end in sight. Even though the bottle has crept back in of a night time before bed, he still loves mummy’s boobie to bits and nurses sporadically throughout the day and night. In fact most of the night. But that’s another story.
It’s amazing to think what we would’ve missed out on had we not had our ties lasered and our chiropractic sessions. The bond it has allowed us to share is something very special, and the immune and health benefits for both of us have been immeasurable.
The message here is to persist. Persist with your gut feeling. Persist with your research. Persist with your treatment. Persist with breastfeeding. Persist with your hopes and dreams. But mostly, listen to your baby. Trust your baby. He’ll tell you when it’s not right.
We need to thank the midwives at Darwin Private Hospital for their guidance and patience, not all of them made us cry and the ones that did only had the best intentions in mind. Doctors Tsambika and Angelo at Palmerston Dental Surgery and Anita at Chiropractic Insight. We couldn’t have done it without you.
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