“Think of your breast as a big juicy burger,” my midwife said, while squeezing my massively engorged breast and shoving it into my impossibly tiny newborn’s mouth.
Milk dripped down my stomach, my entire body felt sticky and hot, while I attempted to latch my eight-pound baby onto a breast that likely weighed the same. Baby’s chin touching breast, check. Baby’s body is against mine. Check. Cheeks are rounded, not sucking in. Check.
“Her tongue is making a clicking sound, she’s not sucking properly,” my midwife noted, while I felt hot tears surface.
Nothing was working, and this was my third baby. I had already successfully nursed two kids, my middle daughter until she was nearly three, but I still felt like a failure with this wild card of a child. Nothing about her felt familiar, she was different than the others, and I knew there was something off. Latching a child to a breast shouldn’t feel like a medical procedure, but every single time it did. My back was sore from tension, and I hated every moment of trying to feed my impossibly difficult to feed child.
My midwives were concerned too, my daughter was born at a healthy weight of eight pounds two ounces, but she started to drop quickly. She wasn’t regaining weight, and I could see the concern in the knots of my midwives brows. Part of midwifery care is the glorious postpartum home visits in the first week after your child’s birth, but my midwives stopped by almost daily for two weeks. They weighed my daughter, analyzed her latch, and corrected me constantly, admonishing me to pay better attention and not get distracted by my other two daughters.
I was scared, my daughter wasn’t gaining, and we weren’t finding any solutions. I had to start pumping and offering her my breastmilk in a bottle, and when that wasn’t enough, I started supplementing with formula, too.
Without the careful attention of the midwives my daughter’s life and health may have been dramatically different. I was so thankful for their constant care and attention. We investigated every avenue of possibility, but the most obvious one was consistently dismissed.
“I think she has a tongue tie,” I said to my husband, one night while he washed bottles and I sat on the couch pumping. But we had already visited a nearby specialist, and they had said her tongue tie was very minor, not requiring any medical attention. A tongue tie, also known as ankyloglossia, is a condition present at birth, where the thin tissue that attaches to the bottom of the tongue is too short, preventing proper movement of the tongue, and often leading to poor latch, poor weight gain, and even speech difficulties as a child grows.
I decided to have her tongue tie re-assessed, and scheduled an appointment with a different doctor. My nearly one-month-old was weak and starving. Even with a bottle she could barely latch, and she wasn’t gaining weight. She slept most of the day, and we had to strip her down, put a cool cloth to her body while she continued to snooze, too lethargic to eat.
Our appointment arrived, and I took my daughter in. I demanded her tongue tie was cut, I didn’t care how minor, and they did. It was difficult to watch as we held down my tiny, sickly baby, and they took out a hideously large pair of “clippers” to cut the tiny flap of skin under her frenulum. She screamed and bled, and I held and nursed her.
The next 48-hours were crucial, I nursed her as much as possible, re-learning how to latch properly with her new, more free-to-move tongue. I noticed a difference almost right away, and within a week of her tongue tie release she was gaining. She was a different baby too - alert, more active, content to be held and easily soothed. I had never wanted a baby to sleep less until my third daughter was born. Now, her lack of sleeping and constant hunger was a source of joy and triumph.
Within a few weeks, our lives were dramatically different. She was gaining at a healthy rate, our midwives content to release us after six weeks, and I felt confident in her nursing and her health.
I wonder sometimes, what would have happened if her tongue tie was never released. It was a simple procedure that I believe was life-saving. Our daughter may have required medical hospitalization had I not insisted on having her assessed again, and I am thankful for a mother’s intuition, and the fact that I received such incredible midwifery care in those crucial early weeks.
Tongue ties seem to be more common, and there's a variety of theories about why that is, although no concrete medical evidence to prove an actual increase exists. Perhaps we’re seeing them diagnosed more often, a result of better education and awareness. I shudder to think about what may have happened to my daughter if I wasn’t educated on this medical condition.
To find out more about tongue ties visit this helpful link.