When my daughter Jade was born just over a year ago, I planned on exclusively breastfeeding. I had successfully breastfed her sister Josie for 14 months, at which point Josie had self-weaned. I loved breastfeeding and the bond that it gave me with Josie. Breastfeeding Jade was something that I was looking forward to.
When I had Josie, I had minimal problems over the first couple of weeks, and I expected that I was an old pro and Jade and I would have no problems at all.
I couldn’t have been more wrong!
In those early days, breastfeeding Jade was very painful, but I assumed it was just my nipples getting used to breastfeeding. I was certain that by the end of the second week, I would be just fine. Instead, things just got worse. My nipples were cracked and bleeding. I slathered on the Lansinoh and walked around topless to the dismay of my five year old daughter. Still, things were not getting better. Every time Jade ate, I was in excruciating pain. Every time she ate, the sores were opened up again.
My midwife came to visit when I finally admitted that I wasn’t the successful breastfeeding mother that I thought I would be. I actually thought I had a milk bleb. My midwife took one look at me and said that it wasn’t a blister. That little bump I could see was all that was left of my nipple. She said that it was the worst nipple damage that she had ever seen. She advised me to express from that side until it healed, and to feed my baby the milk that I had expressed.
I was stunned.
Having a newborn is such an emotional time. The reality was not matching up to my expectations. I had to go back to work when Josie was six weeks old. I expressed until she was nine months old and I was able to quit my job. I absolutely did not want to express to feed Jade, and in my irrational, just-had-a-baby mind, I was a failure. Never mind that Jade would be getting my milk. It was coming from a bottle! Making matters worse was that she struggled to latch onto a bottle. But I soldiered on, determined that expressing was going to be a short term fix and that I would be able to breastfeed without pain soon.
I wanted an answer. I saw nurses, midwives, and lactation consultants. I called breastfeeding helplines. The consensus was that Jade’s mouth was too small to make a good latch. I was assured that once she grew, her mouth would get bigger and breastfeeding would not be painful.
In the meantime I became very anxious every time I thought about feeding Jade. It hurt. I honestly would call it excruciating pain. I was in tears multiple times a day. I thought about quitting. Even though I was super committed to making it work, if I hadn’t had a good experience with Josie I don’t think that I would have had the confidence or desire to continue with Jade. But I had taken on the mindset that I was a breastfeeding mother, and there was no way I was going to give up. I kept reflecting on the experience I had with Josie, and I knew that breastfeeding could be euphoric. I was determined to do anything I could to feel that with Jade. I affirmed to myself that I could breastfeed successfully.
Over time, my nipples both healed. Jade’s mouth grew and she wasn’t damaging me as she fed anymore. However, I knew that her latch still wasn’t right. It didn’t look like Josie’s latch. Her top lip was always tucked under. She was often gassy and fussy and I was still uncomfortable feeding her. At this point she was 10 weeks old.
I decided to search the internet for “baby’s top lip tucked under” and I found myself on a forum where mothers were discussing lip tie. I had never heard of lip tie. I know that the nurses, midwives, and lactation consultants had all checked Jade for tongue tie and said that her tongue was fine. But lip tie? Nobody had mentioned that. Lip tie, I learned, was when skin at the top of the lip is attached tightly to the upper gum. There was a link in the forum to images of lip tie. I looked at the photo. Jade was in my arms. I flipped up her top lip, and she most certainly had lip tie.
I cried. I was so relieved to finally know what was ‘wrong’. Then I was angry. It was frustrating that nobody had caught it. I expected that lactation consultants would have checked for this structural problem. But I couldn’t dwell on the negative. I had to switch my focus to fixing the problem. I decided that I could cope with the discomfort, but I had to determine whether this lip tie was going to cause Jade any long term problems. The forum had led me to Dr. Lawrence Kotlow’s website. I studied his website, fact sheets, and videos. The research I did led me to believe that there was a risk of dental and speech problems if I left the lip tie. Dr. Kotlow was a dentist and he corrected lip tie with a laser. I started calling dentists in my area. None of them would perform the procedure.
I took Jade to the doctor to confirm that she had lip tie and to find out my options for treatment. I was told that I could take her to a pediatric surgeon. I did not want to put my baby under general anesthetic. I started to look into dentists in Sydney, which was about a three hour drive from where we live in Canberra, Australia. I was able to find a dentist that would use a laser to cut the lip tie. I sent the photo of Jade’s lip tie to the dentist and he confirmed that it was lip tie and that he could correct it. We made an appointment for a couple of weeks later.
My husband and I made the trek to Sydney. The procedure, though quick, was very difficult for us as parents. Jade hated being restrained, and Jon had to hold her very still on his lap. There was more blood than I expected, and Jade refused to feed as she was very angry, numbed, and possibly sore. What took a few minutes felt like hours, but eventually Jade calmed down and had a good breastfeed.
I wish I could say that this was the start of euphoric breastfeeding. It wasn’t. Because Jade was already three months old, she was set in her ways. On top of that, I was overly full many times and she wasn’t able to latch well unless I expressed first. The damage she had done to my nipple led me to have what the doctor said was a cyst from the poor latch. This ‘cyst’ remained until Jade was ten months old. She bit it one day as she was slipping off my breast and it opened and drained. Finally I could feed comfortably.
Yes, it took ten months to breastfeed comfortably. Jade has just turned one, and I hope she doesn’t wean as early as her sister did. I’d like to enjoy our breastfeeding journey for a little while longer, while it’s still enjoyable.
I hope that by sharing this story I can raise awareness of lip tie. I think that if Jade’s lip tie had been caught earlier, we would have had a much better breastfeeding experience. I also know that if I hadn't previously breastfed successfully it's very likely that I would have given up due to the excruciating pain. I hope that by sharing my story I can prevent other mothers from unnecessarily giving up on breastfeeding, or from going through what I went through. I believe that when there are problems with attachment, health care providers should be checking for tongue and lip tie. I am happy to report that I was able to share Jade's photo with my midwife, who in turn shared it with her colleagues. I share the photo of Jade's lip tie with nurses and midwives when I get the opportunity. One by one, I know that my story and Jade's photo can make a difference in the lives of mothers.
To learn more about lip tie, visit Dr. Kotlow's website - www.kidsteeth.com or see his fact sheet on tongue and lip tie here: http://www.kiddsteeth.com/articles/ttfactssheet.pdf
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