It was tongue-tie

So the mystery of why my tiny baby was feeding literally constantly but not putting on weight has been solved. Despite what the GP who took a quick glance said, she had a tongue-tie. The lactation consultant who saw me contacted the infant feeding specialist midwife at the hospital. She fit us in yesterday, immediately identified it and clipped it.

I’d like to say case closed but it’s more complicated than that.

If a baby’s tongue-tie is corrected soon after birth they can usually go to the breast with no problem. The older the baby is, the more likely it is that they have to re-learn.

So I fed her right after the tongue-tie was clipped and she was a bit resistant but she took one side for a bit, was actually swallowing a fair bit and we decided: Result.

Then we got home and, knackered from the pumping through the dead of night and the cold which has turned out to be a flu (I pray she doesn’t get it), I fell asleep with her plugged into me.

I woke up to her screaming. Alarmed, I sat up and offered her the breast. The almighty boob which has seemed to solve all woes in the past, if a bit inefficiently, was rejected. Flat out. She was clearly hungry, head-bobbing and searching for the nipple but whenever she got there, she just wouldn’t latch. She would try and continue screaming.

We were at a loss and stressed. I’ve never not been able to comfort her with the breast. I left a message with the NCT breastfeeding helpline and then got through to the La Leche League. The LLL woman didn’t really have any answers but made the fair point that we needed to get something in her if it had been a while since she’d fed, which it had been.

Laurence got through to the lactation consultant who’d been helping us. At this point if I’d spoken to anyone it would have been through sobs. She said to feed her two expressed ounces and try to see if she’d latch having been calmed down. The NCT volunteer got back to me and suggested that Talitha might be feeling confused by the change in her mouth.

Two ounces is the maximum I’m ever able to express whatever I do. So I did my breathing, massage and visualisation and got down to it. Desperation is a hell of a thing. Got two ounces out in an hour. But absolutely could get no more. Not even after a shower and a cup of fennel tea.

Some time while all this was going on, Talitha fell asleep on her father. Thank God. In the break between pumping sessions, I went downstairs and had a meltdown on him.

I hate the fact that I’ve been underfeeding my daughter for all these weeks without knowing it, that I couldn’t work out what was wrong when all the time she was hungry. That I didn’t make myself a nuisance until someone listened makes me feel like a bad mother.

And now, because the tongue-tie has been there for so long, my milk supply is low. Not that there were ever masses to begin with. We’d got her tongue sorted, now she wouldn’t latch and the pumping was reminding me that everything is drop by drop for me. Never squirt.

So I was sitting there mourning the fact that I might not be able to breastfeed her. And giving in to the guilt of it all. I tried to reason with myself. I’ve made myself a prisoner for five and a half weeks to a baby who would never stop feeding, having been told that this was “normal”. It’s been exhausting and frustrating.

I managed to exclusively breastfeed my daughter for seven and a half weeks, not giving her enough to gain weight but still enough to gain some, meet all her milestones, grow her hair and nails, and be alert and often smiley.

This, I feel, is not something to be sniffed at. If even after all this exclusive breastfeeding is not to be, I am not a failure. Many things in life don’t work as they should.

I went back upstairs to pump and when it became obvious nothing would come out, I sat and read a bit of a book recommended to me by my cousin-in-law, What to Expect When You’re Breastfeeding… And What If You Can’t. It suggested shaping the breast with your hand and just offering it to the baby instead of making them work for it with the usual “nose to nipple”.

Ready to try it, I offered her a bottle of expressed milk and to my horror, half of it ended up all over her. All that hard pumped for milk spilled but worse, had it fallen out of her mouth? Was she not able to suck? Had something gone horribly wrong?

Turns out it was just a defective bottle. Phew. Laurence gave her the rest of it in a new bottle and then we tried again, with the book’s technique. At last, success. I can’t believe how much she’s swallowing. Or how different this feels.

But my milk production is low so she’s only getting bits. And we’re starting to look at supplementing, while trying to sort that. I’m seeing the lactation consultant tomorrow to discuss how to proceed and what’s manageable.

I’m keenly aware of the question mark hanging over our breastfeeding relationship. But whatever happens, I will know I really tried.

Meanwhile, I’m loving looking at her stick her tongue out properly as if she’s surprised by this new thing in her mouth.

Image: Qole Pejorian