Today I'm pleased to share Allyson's story of her experience with breastfeeding and tongue tie. I share it with other parents of tongue-tied babies all the time. For more tongue tie stories, see Lisa's story and Danielle's story.
When Liam (pictured at left) was first born, several health care professionals at the hospital noted that Liam's frenulum was quite short and forward placed. The pediatrician felt that it wouldn't cause any difficulties and recommended leaving it alone. The lactation consultant offered a much more dire prediction that I would never be able to breastfeed and recommended that I pump. Being scared new parents and still recovering from a difficult labor that ended in an unplanned C-section, we were much more accepting of the doctor's prognosis that everything would be okay.
Liam had great difficulty latching on initially. He would latch, try to suck a few times, and pop off in frustration. We were blessed to have an amazing night nurse who had also had difficulties initially nursing her child. She was committed to helping us and came in every two hours throughout the nights to help us get Liam latched and provide support. After two nights it seemed like Liam was really getting the hang of things. My milk came in early and it seemed like we were going to be okay.
The only problem was that breastfeeding was really painful for me. However, I had heard that it could be a little sore at first, so I just hoped that things would be okay. After about two weeks, however, the pain was still pretty bad and seemed to be getting worse rather than better. I went back to the hospital's breastfeeding clinic to get help with the pain. The lactation consultant checked our latch and said that it looked good. She thought that trying different positions might help, but she couldn't really think of what positions to use, so I still felt at a loss and the pain was becoming steadily worse.
While part of me was resigned to what was rapidly becoming the excruciating pain of breastfeeding, I knew I had to find a solution or I probably wouldn't be able to continue breastfeeding, which was very important to us. Fortunately, we had met Tanya during our childbirth class and had heard that she was starting a breastfeeding support group in our area. We went to a meeting where Tanya checked Liam out, carefully asked about the pain, and pretty conclusively stated that with Liam's tongue-tie he just was not able to get his tongue into the right position to nurse most effectively. This wasn't totally unexpected news, but I felt devastated as at the time I was unwilling to even consider having his tongue clipped. It sounded such a scary and, I thought, unnecessary procedure. However, a mom was at the group that had her daughter's tongue clipped the previous week and assured me that it wasn't as big a deal as it seemed. I also noticed, looking at other babies in the group, that they could all stick their tongues out, and I had never even really seen Liam's tongue because he was completely unable to extend it. Tanya also provided us with some great literature and stories from other moms that helped us reconsider our previous position.
We saw Liam's doctor the next morning, and she was very happy to write us the referral to a local ENT doctor who would do the procedure. she even called and made the appointment for us, though unfortunately it was a week away. Normally, I would have been thrilled to get into see a specialist so soon, but a quick calculation told me that I would have to nurse Liam at least 64 times before seeing him. The pain had become so intense that I was dreading every session, watching the clock with dread and fear of when Liam would want to eat again, and crying through many a nursing. Tanya, sensing how difficult things had become, acutally called the ENT and got us in the next day! (Tanya's note: Never be shy about calling to see if there's a cancellation. And if all else fails, cry when you talk to the receptionist - that often does the trick).
My husband and I took Liam to the ENT the following day and confirmed that his frenulum was indeed tight. The doctor explained that the current ENT literature did not recommend clipping it, lactation literature did, and that the most recent pediatric literature was starting to recommend it as well. His basic idea was that if it could help with nursing why not give it a try, as it was a fairly simple procedure. He went ahead and clipped the frenulum while my husband held Liam. I found the actual procedure a little scary. Liam screamed through the whole thing, though he'd been screaming through the exam as well. Liam also bled quite a bit, which we weren't expecting. However, Liam was over it and asleep by the time we hit the car to go home - not so for my husband and I!
I had tried to nurse Liam right after the procedure, but his mouth was still numb and he wasn't able to. Once we got home I could immediately tell a difference. I felt his soft tongue on my breast rather than the painful biting sensation I experienced previously. While greatly bolstered by this early success, the clipping did not provide an immediate solution. Liam had nursed for over three weeks without using his tongue properly and therefore it took him quite a while to learn a new way. Also, by this time my nipples were not in good shape at all. We went through several weeks where I needed to pump one or both sides while my husband used a finger feeder to feed Liam and train his tongue to move forward. It was a pretty rough few weeks as all the pumping and finger feeding seemed like they were taking me farther from my goal of breastfeeding. However, I was so lucky to have so much support during this time. My mom was staying with us and would help with washing the pump parts and my husband became an expert finger feeder. Tanya continued to be an invaluable source of support and advice during those trying times. After several weeks of pumping, finger feeding, and finally using a nipple shield, I was able to nurse Liam exclusively. It was such an awesome experience to be able to nurse him and to look forward to the time together rather than dread it.
I honestly never would have believe at the time that it was possible to have such a great experience after such a rough start, but as of next week we will have been nursing for 17 months. I know this wouldn't have been possible if we hadn't had his frenulum clipped. It was a hard decision at the time, but the rewards of doing it have been well worth it.