My son was born at 38 weeks, 7 lbs 13 oz of cheeky deliciousness and as soon as the shock wore off (I made this beautiful baby and now he’s out of the womb and they’re just going to let me walk out of here with him?) we were obsessed, and jumped headfirst into parenting! But there was one problem. My perfect angel would not breastfeed.
Oh the things we tried. (Yes, “we”, my husband was and is an awesome helper and cheerleader.) The sandwich method, nipple shields, different positions, more pillows, less pillows, encouraging a letdownfirst so he wouldn’t have to work as hard… you get the point. We did it all. And spent two months stressed beyond words because first his bilirubin wouldn’t go down, then his weight wouldn’t go up, then by the time we realized he wasn’t effective at removing milk, my supply (which had started off plentifully!) had tanked and no amount of water, oatmeal, fenugreek, blessed thistle, reglan, or power pumping would bring it back. After many tears and reaching a point of utter exhaustion, my husband said the words I needed to hear. “A happy mommy is more important than breastmilk, and maybe I needed to let go.” And I did y’all. Up until that point I really had been so stressed and filled with guilt that I hadn’t enjoyed him. It felt like a weight had been lifted and it was such a turning point for me.
And the cause of our breastfeeding troubles? Well I had small nipples, small breasts that just don’t “sandwich” well, he had a high palate, he was lazy, etc etc etc. I just prepared myself to formula feed all my kids. I’m not anti formula in the least y’all, heck my son would have starved without it. What I am is cheap & lazy! 😉 And then my daughter was born and even though she was in the NICU and I couldn’t nurse or even pick her up for the first six days, she latched on perfectly the first and never looked back. Thanks to pumping my supply was plentiful and when we left the hospital I was making enough for triplets and had to correct an oversupply! We are still nursing at 15 months. Hmm. Same boobs, totally different story, so what was different? The baby. And more specifically, the baby’s mouth.
I finally had a epiphany this spring. My now 3.5 year old has a few sounds he still can’t say correctly, and there was one category in particular he couldn’t produce at all – the velar sounds, which are formed when the back of the tongue lifts to meet the roof of the mouth (think “k”, “g”, & “ng”)! I had my sister (an SLP) do a mini-eval and she agreed he had limited mobility of the back of his tongue. We went to see a dentist who has had special training in identifying and treating tongue and lip ties and what do you know, my son had a very severe posterior tongue tie. The tip of his tongue is fine, it moves, can stick out, etc, but the back of his tongue is stuck down. It’s like trying to do push-ups with someone sitting on your legs. Your torso could get off the ground at least a little bit, but not fully, and your legs aren’t getting any movement.
All this to say, multiple professionals saw my son, heard our breastfeeding woes, and a few even checked his mouth. But no one caught his lesser obvious posterior tongue tie. My son’s own dentist advised against treating it when I brought it up this spring. But I strongly advise (in all things) advocating for your child and listening to your mommy gut. Even though I no longer felt guilty about not nursing him, the whole thing never sat well with me. I knew there had to be more to it. And lo and behold a quick in-office procedure could have saved our breastfeeding relationship and set a completely different tone for my first weeks of motherhood.
Tongue ties are not a new thing. It is said that midwives used to keep a sharp knife (or fingernail!) to be able to sever the frenum after birth if it was necessary. What has changed is that in the past century formula was invented and more and more babies were bottle fed and a tongue tie is less problematic with a bottle nipple. As our culture moves back towards breastfeeding we are seeing an increase in tongue ties being diagnosed.
I’m including links to resources below, because you may not know that your children (or you!) are tied until you check out the list of symptoms – just looking in the mouth may not be enough. Posterior ties especially may not be severe enough to cause problems (my husband, the genetic culprit, never knew because his tie doesn’t cause him problems) and treatment isn’t necessarily recommended if there are no symptoms (tied but speaking and eating normally). My son’s tie was revised with a laser last month, and although the healing process wasn’t too bad, I would recommend getting it done as young as possible!
Please feel free to reach out to me if you have questions! And share with your friends – I don’t want anyone else to go through the stress we went through because they hadn’t heard of this possibility!
Dr. Kotlow’s website, an amazing collection of articles, pictures and education about tongue tie and upper lip tie.
Newsletter from The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2004 documenting the impact of tongue-tie on breastfeeding.
List of symptoms, general information, and helpful pictures and illustrations.
List of Preferred Providers of Tongue Tie and Lip Tie revisions and support