Breastfeeding Problems…Tongue Tie, Lip Tie, What Tie?

It was two days shy of three weeks since my little prince was born and I was enjoying an afternoon stroll with one of my close girlfriends and her son, now two years old. Thank goodness for that walk. And thank goodness for my big mouth too because it was on this very walk when I came to the realization that my breastfeeding problems were real. They were significant. And they weren’t going to disappear on their own.

I opened up about my breastfeeding problems.

If there’s one thing for absolute certain about this particular girlfriend of mine it’s that she has absolutely ZERO inner dialogue. She tells it how it is. She isn’t afraid to speak openly and candidly about ANYTHING. And she often leaves people speechless (particularly those who don’t know her and aren’t expecting the blunt, uncensored dialogue that is her norm). This is why I love her.

Being just about as uninhibited as she, I told her about my breastfeeding problems. Gory details and all. I told her that I was in excruciating pain EVERY. SINGLE. FEED. I told her that I often cried while I breastfed because the discomfort was so unbearable. I told her that I literally had open lacerations on my nipples that didn’t show the slightest signs of healing.

I heard the term “tongue tie” for the first time. 

Although this particular girlfriend of mine couldn’t relate in the slightest to what I was going through (she was one of the very few lucky ones that enjoyed a perfect, pain-free latch right from the get-go), she took it upon herself to reach out to her network of moms to see if there was any advice she could pass my way.

Seriously, what would we do without great friends in this life?

ADVICE:

  • Get a lactation consultant.
  • Get my baby examined for a “tongue tie”.
  • Pump (but I didn’t want to risk him not going back to the boob).
  • Use a nipple shield (ugh, just one more thing to worry about using and sterilizing at every feed – and apparently there’s a good chance your baby will get so attached to it that you have to wean them off when your nipples heal).

So, I put the first two points into immediate action.

I FINALLY called a lactation consultant.

It was a Friday. Once I managed to roll my ass out of bed, after breastfeeding and experiencing some of the worst pain yet, I hit the phones. Turns out there are a lot of other moms with breastfeeding problems because these lactation consultants were booked up! I have no idea how many calls I made but let’s put it this way…it was starting to look as though I wouldn’t be able to get help until after the weekend. It had been three weeks too long and now that I’d gotten into my head the very notion of hiring a lactation consultant, anything later than that very afternoon was simply not an option.

So, I kept Googling.

And calling.

Until at last, my savior picked up.

My first visit with a lactation consultant.

First of all, I fell in love with her because she squeezed me into her obviously hectic schedule and came to my house that very evening. Friday evening. She was perfect. Friendly. Professional. Knowledgeable. And she got right down to business. But to my surprise, she didn’t examine me first. Nope. It was right over to Prince Brody. (After asking my permission, of course.)

Sure enough, what’s the very first thing she concluded?

He has a tongue tie.

tongue-tie-cartoonAND a lip tie.

“Anything else?!” I thought, secretly kicking myself for not getting someone in there sooner.

Okay, so I’d heard of the tongue tie – all thanks to my friend – but lip tie? What the hell was that!?

Oh, and there’s more. He has a tight jaw too.

So here’s the lowdown on it all… 

What’s a tongue tie?

The easiest way to explain it (without using the typical “definition” mumbo jumbo) is this: go the mirror and then lift your tongue to the roof of your mouth. See that light pink, stringy piece of skin in the middle that seems to be attaching your tongue to the base of your mouth? That’s called your lingual frenulum. A tongue tie (medically referred to as ankyloglossia – sorry, just a little mumbo jumbo there for you) is an unusually short and/or thick lingual frenulum. Long story short, it decreases the mobility of the tongue, and as a result, can cause breastfeeding issues in the form of poor latching and prolonged nipple pain.

What’s a lip tie?

Although I hadn’t heard of either, a lip tie seems to be even less common than a tongue tie. Peel your top lip back and notice the light pink, stringy piece of skin in between your upper lip and gums. If this is unusually short and/or thick, this is a lip tie (no other mumbo jumbo term to add here). And yup, you guessed it, this decreases the mobility of the upper lip – again, possibly causing breastfeeding issues and pain.

What’s a tight jaw?

Kidding. Self explanatory.

I took the necessary measures to fix everything.

I took my little prince to a breastfeeding clinic where doctors treated him for his tongue and lip tie. In other words, they did a little medical “snip” to “release” both. While I can say that I did feel a slight improvement, it didn’t last long. In two weeks, I was back in the clinic with lactation consultants doting concerningly over me and doctors telling me the tongue tie had reattached (hence the continued pain). Great. So…they “re-released” it with some kind of a “push” method. Who knows. The point is, after 6+ weeks of pain, you do pretty much anything that carries with it the slightest hope of diminishing your soreness.

It was at this latest visit that they told me one of the reasons I probably still had pain was because Prince Brody had a tight jaw and that he might benefit from intracranial therapy from an osteopath. Woah. Osteopath? Man! This kid, at 6 weeks of age, was going to be better versed in the healthcare therapy world than me! But hey, whatever works. Or might work. So we went. Two treatments later, did it help? Maybe a bit. Maybe not. The same as the tongue and lip tie procedures, my pain seemed less initially but within a few days, returned.

I went back to the drawing board.

drawing-boardKeep in mind we’re now at about 8 weeks. 8 weeks of PAIN. And I’m not talking about a mild aching or bearable discomfort – I’m talking full-blown, toe-curling, tears-streaming-down-my-face kind of pain. But don’t stop reading…there IS a happy ending.

I called my lactation consultant.

AGAIN.

All she could say was how sorry she was and how rare it was that she treated clients who still had pain after her help, plus everything else I’d done for Brody and I. She suggested I come back into the clinic for the doctors to have a look.

AGAIN.

Then I stopped. I thought to myself, enough is enough. It’s time to chill out, take it day by day, listen to and watch my baby, and just be for a little while. And I’m happy to report that at 10 weeks, I was FINALLY pain free.

Here’s what I think got me to a pain-free breastfeeding situation.

  1. MEDIHONEY. This product was my be-all and end-all. It’s the only topical product that helped my open cuts and raw skin heal.
  1. TIME. I know, this is the point you were hoping I wouldn’t make. Because if you’re reading this, you’re probably experiencing your own breastfeeding pain and you’re wondering how much longer it will be before it’s gone. Sorry, hunny. But hang in there, it’s worth it.
  1. EXPERIMENTATION. Particularly in the last two weeks, when I refrained from any further treatments and consultations, I started to really pay attention to what was happening at each feed. Was it a slightly different angle that worked better? Which positions were both of us most comfortable with? Should I be upright or reclined? Where was the best setup? Couch? Rocker? Bed? Until I was pain free, for me, it was my comfy reclining couch in the family room, with my little guy on a bit of an angle (head higher than legs).
  1. LACTATION CONSULTANT. Even though she didn’t get me to a pain-free state immediately, my lactation consultant taught me so much about breastfeeding that still helps me to this day (my little prince is almost 6 months old now), because babies’ habits and behaviors keep changing!

Everything I did might benefit my baby in other ways too.

Maybe the treatments didn’t help us at all. Maybe they did. Maybe it was one. Maybe it was a combination of everything together.

One thing I will say with absolutely confidence though is that these treatments might benefit my little prince in other ways (not just correcting breastfeeding issues).

Treating tongue and lip ties can…

  • Help your baby chew age appropriate solid foods
  • Prevent gagging, choking or vomiting foods
  • Avoid difficulties related to dental hygiene
  • Stop persistent dribbling
  • Facilitate the development of speech
  • Avoid deterioration in speech
  • Prevent any loss in self-confidence later on because he or she feels or sounds “different”

Intracranial osteopathy can…

  • Relieve pressure and discomfort
  • Release nerve pressure in the lips, cheeks and tongue (caused by birth compressions)
  • Release the tension and stresses in muscles and soft tissues

A very interesting fact that I can say about our treatment with the osteopath is that after just one treatment lasting less than an hour, I saw my little guy’s tongue for the first time! While it looked as though his osteopath wasn’t doing anything (osteopathy is very subtle, gentle and non-invasive), once she was done, it was like magic. All of a sudden, he was using his tongue freely and excitedly. Why does this matter? Because tongue movement is vital to speech development.

Huh.

I don’t regret a single thing.

Spoken like a true optimist, I don’t regret anything that I did or endured during the first couple months of my dear son’s life. Who knows what really worked or what didn’t but I believe that everything happened for a reason. I’m proud of the fact that I was relentlessly resourceful in my search to find answers (and relief!) and I couldn’t be happier that I stuck with it.

I know it’s hard.
I know it’s painful.
But it’s worth it.

Do you have breastfeeding pain?

Share your story.

Let’s learn and gain from one another’s misery.

 

 

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