It was tongue-tie

So the mystery of why my tiny baby was feeding literally constantly but not putting on weight has been solved. Despite what the GP who took a quick glance said, she had a tongue-tie. The lactation consultant who saw me contacted the infant feeding specialist midwife at the hospital. She fit us in yesterday, immediately identified it and clipped it.

I’d like to say case closed but it’s more complicated than that.

If a baby’s tongue-tie is corrected soon after birth they can usually go to the breast with no problem. The older the baby is, the more likely it is that they have to re-learn.

So I fed her right after the tongue-tie was clipped and she was a bit resistant but she took one side for a bit, was actually swallowing a fair bit and we decided: Result.

Then we got home and, knackered from the pumping through the dead of night and the cold which has turned out to be a flu (I pray she doesn’t get it), I fell asleep with her plugged into me.

I woke up to her screaming. Alarmed, I sat up and offered her the breast. The almighty boob which has seemed to solve all woes in the past, if a bit inefficiently, was rejected. Flat out. She was clearly hungry, head-bobbing and searching for the nipple but whenever she got there, she just wouldn’t latch. She would try and continue screaming.

We were at a loss and stressed. I’ve never not been able to comfort her with the breast. I left a message with the NCT breastfeeding helpline and then got through to the La Leche League. The LLL woman didn’t really have any answers but made the fair point that we needed to get something in her if it had been a while since she’d fed, which it had been.

Laurence got through to the lactation consultant who’d been helping us. At this point if I’d spoken to anyone it would have been through sobs. She said to feed her two expressed ounces and try to see if she’d latch having been calmed down. The NCT volunteer got back to me and suggested that Talitha might be feeling confused by the change in her mouth.

Two ounces is the maximum I’m ever able to express whatever I do. So I did my breathing, massage and visualisation and got down to it. Desperation is a hell of a thing. Got two ounces out in an hour. But absolutely could get no more. Not even after a shower and a cup of fennel tea.

Some time while all this was going on, Talitha fell asleep on her father. Thank God. In the break between pumping sessions, I went downstairs and had a meltdown on him.

I hate the fact that I’ve been underfeeding my daughter for all these weeks without knowing it, that I couldn’t work out what was wrong when all the time she was hungry. That I didn’t make myself a nuisance until someone listened makes me feel like a bad mother.

And now, because the tongue-tie has been there for so long, my milk supply is low. Not that there were ever masses to begin with. We’d got her tongue sorted, now she wouldn’t latch and the pumping was reminding me that everything is drop by drop for me. Never squirt.

So I was sitting there mourning the fact that I might not be able to breastfeed her. And giving in to the guilt of it all. I tried to reason with myself. I’ve made myself a prisoner for five and a half weeks to a baby who would never stop feeding, having been told that this was “normal”. It’s been exhausting and frustrating.

I managed to exclusively breastfeed my daughter for seven and a half weeks, not giving her enough to gain weight but still enough to gain some, meet all her milestones, grow her hair and nails, and be alert and often smiley.

This, I feel, is not something to be sniffed at. If even after all this exclusive breastfeeding is not to be, I am not a failure. Many things in life don’t work as they should.

I went back upstairs to pump and when it became obvious nothing would come out, I sat and read a bit of a book recommended to me by my cousin-in-law, What to Expect When You’re Breastfeeding… And What If You Can’t. It suggested shaping the breast with your hand and just offering it to the baby instead of making them work for it with the usual “nose to nipple”.

Ready to try it, I offered her a bottle of expressed milk and to my horror, half of it ended up all over her. All that hard pumped for milk spilled but worse, had it fallen out of her mouth? Was she not able to suck? Had something gone horribly wrong?

Turns out it was just a defective bottle. Phew. Laurence gave her the rest of it in a new bottle and then we tried again, with the book’s technique. At last, success. I can’t believe how much she’s swallowing. Or how different this feels.

But my milk production is low so she’s only getting bits. And we’re starting to look at supplementing, while trying to sort that. I’m seeing the lactation consultant tomorrow to discuss how to proceed and what’s manageable.

I’m keenly aware of the question mark hanging over our breastfeeding relationship. But whatever happens, I will know I really tried.

Meanwhile, I’m loving looking at her stick her tongue out properly as if she’s surprised by this new thing in her mouth.

Image: Qole Pejorian

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  • honey,  you are doing so well.  Breastfeeding is so incredibly hard, nothing can prepare you.  either way, breast or bottle, do what works for you and keeps you sane.  You sound a rather excellent mother to me trying to do what is best for baby, no one needs more than that!

    I have three children as you know, i breastfed one for 2 weeks, one with expressed milk for a couple of days and one is still feeding.  I love them all the same and they all seem to adore me.  The two ‘not really breastfed’ are as healthy as horses (healthy horses) and the bf one is also rather fit and well (albiet with a mild case of epiliepsy)

    Dont beat yourself up do what suits and enjoy her.

    jane x

    • Thanks for this. How sane I am is dependent on how much energy I’ve got. I’m trying to work out what will work for us as my bro is leaving this weekend and I’m not sure how I’ll cope on my own especially if I’m still as run down as this. Good to reminded that it doesn’t mean we’ll love each other any less.

  • Please take Claire Byam-Cooks “what to expect…” book and throw it away. She has no training, no expertise, knowledge or experience of successful breastfeeding. Her methods are flawed, her “routines” defective (as are all feeding schedules) and her assertion that there’s no such thing as nipple confusion is wrong, and refuted by every breastfeeding support organisations.

    Try to ditch the bottles. As well as Tongue tie, if you’ve been supplementing with expressed milk from a bottle she’s now got to relearn not only how to latch and nurse properly, but also to unlearn the bottle sucking technique she’s already learned. If your milk supply isn’t great (after 5 weeks of poor stimulation due to her TT) then she’s possibly started to prefer the ease of extracting milk from a bottle over working for it from you direct.

    Strip her down to just a nappy, go topless and go to bed with her, lay her on her belly between your breasts and just *be* close, hold her and let her snuzzle. Biological Nurturing like this allows her to latch naturally and helps her relax whilst feeding. Don’t give up, you’ve come through the worst part now. You can do it.

    Have faith. (and don’t read CBC!!)

    • Not sure what I agree with on the breastfeeding front. All I know is that I finally got Talitha to latch last night. I’m doing skin to skin. She’s been getting more milk but her tongue still isn’t clear on what it should be doing. The bottle is per the advice of the lactation consultant likely because I’m ill and am exhausted from the past five weeks and to spoon or cup feed while having to pump and also putting her to the breast would literally mean no time for sleep. At any rate she’s only had the bottle once a day and it hasn’t changed the way she takes the breast as far as I can tell. Getting the tie released did that. I’m seeing the lactation consultant tomorrow for her to see what’s happening and discuss options including SNS etc and what is realistic for me.

  • Hi Adele, just come across your blog, sounds like you are really having a hard time of it at the moment. Such a shame that the tounge tie wasn’t picked up earlier. You’ve done an amazing job of sticking with the breast feeding for so long, despite what sounds like unending problems! Hat off to you. I have been expressing a bit of milk most days for the last month and so have lots in my freezer, and Naomi has just started to refuse the bottle (annoying as it means I can’t leave her and go out!) so if you want some breastmilk of mine instead of resorting to formula to supplement while Talitha adjusts to her new mouth and you recover from your flu just let me know and you can have lots. If the thought of someone else’s milk groses you out though I won’t be offended!

    • Hi Hannah that is so kind of you. It doesn’t gross me out at all, especially since I know you. And it’s preferable to formula in my view. I’m just waiting to talk to Tge lactation consultant about things. Have just started to get fullness in my breasts for the first time and she seems to be nursing more efficiently today. Thanks again for the very generous offer. Either way, I’ll be in touch. x

  • Oh Adele! I’m so sorry that you both had to go through that. I know personally how wretched a feeling it is when you discover your baby has been hungry. It’s awful. Just remember: she is fine. She’s a happy, healthy baby and you are taking good care of her. You DID solve the problem. You are a good mum! I’ve had severe supply issues with both my previous kiddos and I absolutely HATE the lie that if you just don’t give up, everything will be fine, because breastfeeding is natural. Lots of things that are natural don’t work the way they are supposed to, as you pointed out. I’m just so thankful that we have options to keep those babies fed. So don’t give into the guilt. Do your best, keep her tummy full, and be thankful.

    I’m due to have baby #3 (did you know we were expecting again?) any day now. I successfully (but with difficulty) breastfed Iain and was unsuccessful with Elinor. At 4 months she weighed 10 lbs. 🙁 So we went to formula with some supplemental nursing. Both kids are healthy. I plan to be much quicker to supplement with this baby, just so she doesn’t go through that horrible hungry time. I’m drinking mother’s milk tea, taking fenugreek, and plan to breastfed on demand and always before supplementing. But it might not work. And (I think) I’m ok with that. All I can do is my best.

    Ciao, bella!

    Jordan D– (formerly from Sussex Uni)

    • Wow, Jordan, many congratulations! Sending lots of feel good oxytocin and prolactin vibes your way. Hopefully this will be the time it’ll work out. Between tongue-tie, low milk supply, the general awkwardness of feeding with large breasts and the length of time we’ve been at it, exclusive breastfeeding does seem unlikely. I’m starting to accept what I said about not everything working right. Gosh if I could go back to the beginning I would never have let her go hungry for so long. Thankfully between her tongue working better and my milk supply starting to boost (domperidome) so I can pump we’re getting somewhere but if things aren’t remarkably better soon, we’ll be moving along. Thanks for sharing your story. It makes feel me less alone in this.

  • Adele you are doing fab, I am sending you a big hug.  I also agree with Jane….you must do what suits you and Talitha best be that breast, bottle or a combination of the two.  I ended up combination feeding LLC after several months and that worked really well for us.  Personally I didn’t find nipple/bottle teat confustion to be an issue (and like you I had introduced expressed milk in a bottle early on).  I also think that it’s likely it will take some time for Talitha to get used to either or both ways of feeding with her newly un-tied tongue.  The most important thing is to see what is working for her, keep asking for support when you need it and be kind to yourself and your body as well.  xx

  • Hi,
    My son was diagnosed with TT but we had to wait another 4 weeks for revision. I also had supply issues and it took a lot of pumping and domperidone to be able to exclusively BF.
    To try and help others I’ve started a petition to get it diagnosed in hospital at birth, please can you take a few minutes to sign it and share it! Many thanks

    • Hi Michelle,
      My daughter had TT snipped at 6 weeks after issues breastfeeding. Taking her to a cranial osteopath helped open up the oral cavity and relearn how to feed properly. Six of my direct friends have had babies with TT. 4 out of 5 mums the day i went to the Baby Cafe had babies with TT and today at baby massage 5 out of 6 babies there had had TT. I feel compelled to help raise awareness of TT and campaign for all babies to be checked. I found your petition online and tracked u down here. If I can help in any way let me know. I am a Nutritional Therapist and passionate about breastfeeding. I will share it on FB and so will my husband who has nearly 5000 likes on his business page.

Further reading

Showing up as myself

[image description: Adele and her youngest child sit in the greenhouse, looking at the camera] You may have noticed that I’ve changed this website’s name and URL to my own: Adele Jarrett-Kerr. When I started this blog nine years ago, it...