All Tied Up

I'm a designer and mother of 3 boys who has great interest in the topic of breastfeeding. Read on if you do as well, or click away and visit again soon :)

My life has been greatly impacted by a condition called 'tongue-tie'. In oder to convey my challenges and successes thoroughly and candidly, I want to share about them here in my notes. 

Here is a definition from mayoclinic.org:

Tongue-tie (ankyloglossia) is a condition that restricts the tongue's range of motion. 

With tongue-tie, an unusually short, thick or tight band of tissue (lingual frenulum) tethers the bottom of the tongue's tip to the floor of the mouth. Tongue-tie can affect the way a child eats, speaks and swallows, as well as interfere with breast-feeding.

All three of my sons have tongue-tie (and lip-tie). However, I wasn't informed until until my third son refused to breastfeed at 4 days old. The more I reflect on my struggle, discovery, and success the more I can't believe how little I knew and how lucky I was. 

Struggle

I've generally been aggressive about troubleshooting feeding issues. When my first son was two weeks old, I drove 20 minutes to visit a La Leche Leage Leader in her home to receive help. The soreness I experienced during feeding was unlivable. I received great help in how to better position for feeding and felt it would solve the issue of soreness. Sadly by week 5, my son was now teetering on low weight, not sleeping well and constantly fussing. A friend and retired CLC helped me assess that he may have dairy induced reflux. I removed all diary and soy from my diet and within about 4 weeks his feedings and sleep improved. My soreness turned into numbness with occasional wincing pain. I returned to work at 6 mo. post partum and pumped the rest of his first year. 

When my second son was three weeks old, my sister in law came to spend a week with us. I distinctly remember crying and nursing while talking with her. My second son was such a sweetly tempered baby that we got on a feeding schedule quickly. Since I wasn't feeding him around the clock, like my first with the weight issues, I thought our feeding experience was successful. I breastfed him with mild discomfort for 14 months. We also tackled thrush together.

Four days into my third son's life, he refused to breastfeed. I had heard of this happening before, but never understood how a baby could refuse to be fed. Going into that feed, he was getting increasingly fussy and wouldn't latch. I tried to calm him and position him correctly, but he wailed. I felt determined and worked with him until it had been about 4.5 hrs since the last feed. He had already dropped weight significantly in the hospital, so I knew I needed to move on to pump and bottle immediately. I felt so defeated and embarrassed that I was stumped in an area that was so important to me.

Over the course of the next week, I tried EVERYTHING. I talked to EVERYONE I knew who had any experience or wisdom on the subject. My pediatrician said that she did not see a tongue-tie issue but empathized and recommend I call an IBCLC that she saw with her daughter. I started with the inexpensive option and called a La Leche League leader. A fellow mom and experienced doula strongly suggested the possibility of tongue-tie, so I pursued that in our conversation. The LLL Leader concurred and referred me to a pediatric dentist. I still felt my scenario was hopeless, and wanted to weigh the pros and cons of also seeing an IBCLC. It wasn't until day 7 of pumping, bottling and taking care of my other two young sons, that I decided professional help would be worth any cost. 

Discovery

On day 10, I decided to forgo the IBCLC and directly assess tongue-tie. Calling Dentistry 4 Kids at opening, we were immediately scheduled for an appointment that morning. I asked a friend to babysit my 2 year old, and my oldest came with me. I packed a 3 oz. bottle of newly pumped breastmilk for the next feed.

The dental office was a 4 year old boy's dream come true - disney movies, climbing structure, blocks and trucks galore. For our appointment, we sat in a comfortable office on a large sofa, surrounded by even more toys. Hudson and I received full attention, empathy and assessment for his sure fire tongue-tie AND lip-tie. After I received a detailed explanation of the release procedure, care and expected results, Hudson was gently carried out. The nurse and pediatric dentist returned with a slightly teary eyed baby tightly latched on to his pacifier. They handed him to me and advised that I try to nurse him. Dimming the lights, we were left to face our fears and watch Toy Story. THE BOY FED and I had no discomfort. I tossed the bottle of milk we brought.

Success

The next 24 hours were very difficult. Hudson was fussing like he had before, but I was told he would have soreness from the procedure. Since his weight was up, I decided to not offer a bottle. His fussing went from 45 minutes, to about 15 minutes, to about 5 minutes before each feed. This meant I was exhausted and managing three fussing children with high demands. However, nothing could extinguish the joy and gratitude I felt. Feedings improved and normalized and we returned for our next two follow-up appointments with good reports. Today, I have no discomfort and Hudson is our heaviest 4 month old boy yet.

I had the pediatric dentist also look at my two older sons to look for lip and tongue ties. After talking with him about the pain I had experienced in feeding them as babies, I was sure the issue had run in our family. It had.

It absolutely takes a village to breastfeed but I would never have known that going into motherhood. I assumed that I would naturally and instinctively master the art of or at least work to get there with the help of internet research. Unfortunately nature, instinct, and internet research failed to help me and my first two tongue tied babies. I cannot tell you how many tears were shed in pain and then finally in resolve over this issue. If I could turn back time, I would have pressed the hospital staff to have a professional asses my newborn's tongue and lip ties. Moving forward, I'm motivated to help other mother's consider the issue and proactively share to whoever will listen. 

At our third and final follow-up appointment with the pediatric dentist, I was asked to share my story. They recorded a video to be presented to a dental gathering in Chicago. I was definitely nervous and not entirely comfortable discussing the details of feeding logistics but thrilled to be a part of getting the word out. I feel incredibly lucky to be where I am today.

If you're a mom with feeding issues that may be linked to tongue or lip ties, I strongly recommend bypassing all the little check points and going straight to the professional who performs release procedures OR starting with a lactation consultant who has a history of identifying and successfully treating mothers and infants with this issue. The moment your case is dismissed by someone who's trusted, but not trained, it will become more difficult to pursue further and you won't see the value in the cost of treatment. Health insurance needs to 'cover' (based on your plan) the procedure as medically necessary since it's a feeding issue.