The Misunderstood Tongue Tie
BY Christine Hernandez
Boobertruths Episode 1: A mom’s journey: sticking to her maternal instincts, seeking and finding answers and getting lactation support for the oft-misunderstood tongue tie
This is my story of breastfeeding for almost two years, through my son’s long-undiagnosed tongue tie, months of being told my instincts about my son’s issues were wrong, revision of my son’s tongue tie, food allergies, working with multiple lactation support people until finding the amazing lactation consultant who recognized and helped me solve my breastfeeding problems and finally my journey to help other people who are struggling!
I knew I was going to breastfeed before I was even actually pregnant with my son. I was surrounded by strong female role models I admired, and they all breastfed. I was breastfed. It wasn’t even a decision I made, it was just part of the narrative I had about what kind of mother I would become. So when my son was born and latched on without any issue during those first few moments we shared skin to skin- I thought that things would be smooth sailing. “His latch looks great!” our midwife said, right before we were wheeled out of the birthing room and into the postpartum ward. I trusted her. I looked down at my newborn son as he nursed and thought his latch looked like the few breastfeeding photos I had seen in my childbirth education class. Everything was going well-- until it wasn’t.
A few hours after my son’s birth, it became clear he wasn’t going to be one of those snoozy newborns that you’d have to make sure to wake to feed. In fact, he didn’t really seem to be sleeping much at all unless he was latched on to my breast. If he was awake, he was crying. He would cry, I would nurse him, he would fall asleep while nursing and if I tried to unlatch him and put him in that little plastic bassinet next to my bed he would wake up screaming and the cycle would continue. I had been awake for 36 hours and desperately wanted to sleep. I called the nurse in and said “I can’t put him down, is it okay if I sleep like this? With him on my chest?“ She said, “That’s what it’s like when you breastfeed... And I can’t tell you its okay to sleep while you are holding him, it’s not safe.”
So I didn’t sleep. I asked to see the hospital lactation consultant because I worried my son wasn’t getting enough or that something was wrong. She spent a few moments with us demonstrating how to latch my son on deeper, awkwardly pressing his head into my boob, but I couldn’t really seem to get the motions down so I just thanked her and said I understood.
Once we were home, my son continued to cry unless he was being fed. My instinct that something wasn’t right became stronger. I knew all babies cried and needed to be close to their mamas, but this was different. As the weeks went on my son had nightly crying sessions between the hours of 5:00 and 8:00 pm. Like clockwork, he would make this shrill, high pitched cry and no amount of bouncing, nursing, shushing or swaddling would soothe him. My husband worked nights often so it would just be me and this tiny little person I was supposed to be able to soothe, but couldn’t. The night would end with him eventually succumbing to sleep and me, more often than not, in tears, frantically searching google for answers.
I left the appointment feeling misunderstood and angry and decided to make an appointment with a lactation consultant
I noticed a few articles about tongue tie and thought my son’s tongue looked like the ones in the photos, but when I asked his pediatrician about his tongue, he told me that “all newborns are fussy...” and that he should grow out of it around three months. He said his tongue looked just fine and that he was growing well, so everything was fine. I left the appointment feeling misunderstood and angry and decided to make an appointment with a lactation consultant who saw patients at my doctor's office.
He was transferring milk well, gaining well, and no one seemed to be hearing my concerns.
I sat in the office with my son on my lap and tearfully explained my concerns to the friendly lactation consultant who sat before me. I told her that my son never seemed satiated after a feeding, that if he was awake he was generally crying and that my nipples were sore and starting to crack. She had a look at my nipples and prescribed some nipple ointment for them. She looked at my son’s latch and said the same thing everyone else said “it looks great.” and did a weighted feeding. He was transferring milk well, gaining well, and no one seemed to be hearing my concerns. They all assumed I was an overwhelmed new mom, and my son was just your average fussy infant and that I just must not be able to handle it. She then told me to start to space out his feedings. “Try to keep him as close to every three hours as you can.,” she said. “If he has just nursed and wants to nurse again, distract him…” I nodded and left with a prescription for nipple ointment but not many answers as to why my son seemed so uncomfortable all the time.
Determined to find answers, I went to my local La Leche League meeting. Finally I got the empathetic response I needed and felt like my concerns were being heard. I had been written off so many times that I had started to doubt my abilities to soothe my son which in turn made me doubt myself as a mother. Surrounded by women who understood and who validated my concerns was life-giving at a point where I really felt hopeless. The lactation consultant co-leading the meeting took one look at my son who was babbling on a blanket and from across the room she said: “Yes, I can see his little tongue is really restricted and you are right- he does have a tongue tie.” She explained to me that my allowing my son to nurse as frequently as he needed to is what allowed him to gain weight well enough to avoid concern from the pediatrician. If I had listened to the advice to space out his feedings, my supply may have decreased and he may not have gained as well. I finally felt like I had some answers and had hope that things would get better.
I nursed my son until just shy of his second birthday with the support of the lactation groups and my lactation consultant, through tongue and lip tie revisions and food allergies that required me to go on an elimination diet. There were many times where I wanted to give up but the advice “never quit on a bad day” was my mantra and I kept on going, stumbling through the bad days and savoring the good.
#boobertruth: I am now grateful for the experience I had.
Despite those early months when I felt like less of a mother, I now look back and see how truly strong I was. My maternal instincts told me that something was wrong, and though many people disagreed with me, I persevered until I found the answers I was looking for. In the end, that is what makes a good mother- the ability to stay connected to the voice inside you that guides you toward the right answers for your child, despite the noise outside.
In an effort to support other new parents and give them that lifegiving empathy I received, I am now studying lactation to become an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). If I could help even one mother feel strong in her ability to care for her child (or diagnose a tongue tie early!) then it will all be worth it.