Coming up to the birth of my first child I never considered the possibility that I would have difficulties breastfeeding her.
I was very lucky to have a very fast, yet intense, natural birth and Baby B was placed immediately on my breast and she suckled straight away.
After a sleepless night in a very busy public ward I was ready to go home the next day. As I had had no medication or issues with the birth of Baby B and she seemed to be latching on and feeding well, although with a bit of pain to me (which I was told was fairly normal for the first time), we were cleared to go home by that afternoon.
I never thought that there would be any issues breastfeeding, my mother breastfed 9 children, two of my sisters have breastfed their 4 children with no problems as well as my sister-in-laws and friends. The only issues any of them had was lack of supply when their children got too big for breast milk alone.
So you can imagine my feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness when one week after giving birth I was still in constant pain when breastfeeding B and the mere thought of feeding her would bring me to tears. My nipples started to crack and bleed to the point that it looked like the tip of my nipple was actually coming away from the base. It got to a point after two weeks of pain, tears and anguish that when I started to contemplate putting B on formula, I went and visited the lactation consultant at the hospital to see if she could help me.
In hindsight I wish we had visited the lactation consultant as soon as I started feeling pain, but I was headstrong and didn’t want to admit that I was faltering at supposedly the most natural thing in the world, breastfeeding my child. Initially I thought a bit of pain was normal as nipples get a bit roughed up in the process of breastfeeding but as the pain quickly got worse and my nipples started to be torn apart my husband and I realized that something was wrong.
I tried using nipple guards, which softened the pain, but would tire B out before she got a full feed, I then moved onto expressing as I really wanted B to get all the benefits of breast milk even if she had to take it from a bottle and not me. This meant I was up all night and day either expressing or feeding B the bottle, it was a very tiring and extremely emotional time.
During the first visit to the lactation consultant we went through the latching on process and B seemed to be doing that properly. The lactation consultant recommended continuing with the nipple guards and expressing for some feeds in order to let my nipples heal, as B didn’t like the nipple guards I continued to express all meals until my nipples seemed a bit better and tried feeding B again, it only took a couple of feeds before my nipples were red raw and bleeding so we went back to the lactation consultant. By this stage the cracks of were more like crevices and I was in constant pain, I was still expressing milk and I was really not enjoying motherhood.
During the second visit the lactation consultant still couldn’t understand why we were still having problems as B latched on with no problems the only sign that there was a problem was when I released her mouth from my breast, my nipple would come out all pinched and pointy instead of fat and round.
It was at this stage that my husband mentioned B’s tongue-tie and asked whether this could be creating any issues. The lactation consultant said that yes it could definitely be creating problems. She told us about results she had read and the effect tongue-ties (ankyloglossia) have on the infant’s ability to latch on to their mother’s breast, depending on the severity of the tongue-tie.
As B’s tongue-tie was quite far forward it restricted her tongue so much that she was unable to draw the nipple completely into her mouth which meant that my nipple was being “chewed” when she was trying to feed. It also meant that she was tiring out before getting a full feed and she wasn’t gaining weight as quickly as she could have.
The lactation consultant recommended a GP who specializes in snipping tongue-ties (frenetomy). The procedure is quite simple, the Doctor simply clips the frenulum (the band of tissue that connects the bottom of the tongue to the floor of the mouth) to loosen it and allow the tongue it’s full range of motion. It takes less than a second, and because the frenulum contains almost no blood, there is usually only a drop or two of blood. The baby is put on the breast immediately following the procedure, and the bleeding stops almost instantly.
Even though my nipples were still healing and quite sensitive I noticed a difference straight away when I put B on my breast straight after the frenetomy. The pain wasn’t shooting through my whole body it was only surface pain due to the cracks in my nipples. The relief was palpable I cried.
After a couple of weeks of expressing and breastfeeding alternately to allow my nipples to heal, I was finally enjoying breastfeeding, I now understood what all those other mum’s meant when they said breastfeeding was emotionally fulfilling. Mostly I was really enjoying bonding with my child.
Looking back, I really wish I had known before B was born that a tongue tie could create issues with breastfeeding as it would have been snipped at birth and I could have avoided all the issues.
Disclaimer: The author of this article is not a Medical Doctor and as such is not giving advice or recommending any medical procedures. If you have any concerns about your child please consult your General Practitioner.