I Have a Tongue-Tied Baby: Breastfeeding Issues and How I Dealt with Them

I Have a Tongue Tied Baby: Breastfeeding Issues

I Have a Tongue Tied Baby: Breastfeeding Issues

Zephy all prepped up for her tongue and lip ties removal.

No matter how much effort you do to get you ready for the arrival of your newborn, unexpected circumstances could still arise. I never thought I’d struggle to breastfeed Zephy because I thought women are born to do it naturally. However, we still did. Many moms find breastfeeding a handful task due to many reasons but for us, we had a tongue-tied baby with breastfeeding issues! A quick check by the doctor could have saved us (and hopefully, you, too!) from the hassle that we experienced during the first few weeks of breastfeeding.

As someone with some knowledge on dentistry, I didn’t quite expect I’d encounter a case of tongue and lip ties on my own daughter. I only know of it from the books until I felt it through Zephy’s painful latch.

Top Breastfeeding Issue: Painful Latch

Zephy had a hard time latching on when the nurse laid her down on my chest for our first skin-to-skin contact in the recovery room post-labor. Actually, she didn’t latch on at all! All the anticipation and excitement turned to yearning and disappointment when we were told she won’t be going home with us as she had to be admitted in the NICU for newborn pneumonia. My very exhausted post-partum body had to go to the hospital, which thankfully was very near our house, everyday to feed her directly while I pump every 3 hours at home. My lack of understanding on proper latching gave both Zephy and me a difficult time initiating breastfeeding.

With the intervention of a nurse, she managed to feed directly. The first latch felt weird for it was somewhere between ticklish and uncomfy. I guess I can say it wasn’t too uncomfortable but the feeling of a child suckling on my nipple was enough to make me feel squeamish. The second day of breastfeeding was different as this time it was leaning more towards uncomfortable to painful. Still, I thought this was how it should feel. I got a little concerned when on the third day, my nipple bled and looked like a lipstick after feeding. I teared up at the instant I saw blood seep through the side of Zephy’s mouth. It was so painful! I didn’t falter so I carried on and even did my research on proper latching while Zephy was still in the hospital.

When Zephy was finally discharged, I thought things will be easier since I no longer had to travel to and from the hospital. Things took a turn for the worse when I realised I had to endure toe-curling, excruciating pain of breastfeeding every 2 to 3 hours. By this time, my already sore nipples got even more sore each feeding time making it more painful every time as well. I dreaded breastfeeding to a point that when Zephy cried, I cried, too. To say that it’s painful is an understatement because not only was the process painful but also because I had to endure lack of sleep, erratic hormones, and healing labor wound on top of it.

The Intervention

I wasn’t myself the whole time I was struggling to breastfeed. I am sure of this because I was so depressed I was crying almost every hour and messaging people for help. I was on the verge of giving up when I had a breastfeeding peer counselor visit our home, gave me a lactation massage, and taught me few tips on proper positioning. Prior to her visit, I had already stumbled upon the idea that lip and tongue ties are usual culprits to painful latch and the reason why my nipples are coming out as lipstick-shaped. I didn’t know that a tongue-tied baby = breastfeeding issues as I have read in Kelly Mom. 

I had Zephy’s latch checked and the breastfeeding counselor said her latch is fine from the outside but she encouraged us to see a Pedia Dentist. We booked an appointment the same day and the dentist confirmed she had a lip tie and a posterior tongue tie.

Because Zephy’s tongue is ‘tied’ to the floor of her mouth, she couldn’t latch on deep enough such that my nipple is on her hard palate. This position ensures efficient sucking, pain-free nursing, and intact (not squashed, lipstick-shaped) nipple. Tongue ties can also be a speech impediment which can cause speech developmental delay in the future.

The pedia dentist, who is a breastfeeding advocate, reassured me that everything will be fine but she offered no assurance that Zephy will latch as soon as the operation is done. She just said some babies feed immediately while some don’t. I had already been doing my reading about the experiences of other moms whose babies had tongue and lip ties prior to the operation and majority said their little ones fed instantly as if nothing happened so this made me feel confident that the pain will go away. Thanks to my father, we had her ties snipped the same day.

Zephy’s lip tie also prevented her from sucking properly and non-removal could lead to dental problems (i.e. gap between 2 front teeth).

I couldn’t bear hearing Zephy cry while she was being operated on, so I went downstairs. Thankfully her operation was a success. It didn’t even take 10 minutes for it to be done! When we came back, Zephy was neatly swaddled as she had already calmed down. Other than her upper lip being a little sore because of the anesthesia, she was behaved.

Ouch! Zephy’s surgery sites. No stitches since electrocautery was used.

Tongue and Lip Tie Revision After-Care Management

Dealing with a tongue tied baby who had breastfeeding issues after a surgery was another hurdle we had to pass. We were told by the pedia to expect some bleeding after the anesthesia wears off. This was very emotional especially for a first time mom like me since I was not expecting my baby to bleed out that early on. Indeed, she bled a little but that only when after she cried, she sort of “stretched” the wound, thereby causing the clotted blood plug to come off. It stopped after a few minutes but still it was heartbreaking to see!

We were also instructed to do lip and tongue exercises to prevent the surgery sites (wound) from healing back together. They were like stretching exercises so that the wounds heal separately. This part is really difficult and time-consuming because it has to be done 6x a day for the first few weeks but the frequency usually tapers off thereafter. Plus the fact that my baby was not cooperative all the time made this part extra difficult. Although the exercises take only a few minutes, it would be best if you get your partner to do the exercises. Dr. Graheri has some nifty instructions and videos on his website.

Nursing Post-Surgery

I offered my breast immediately after the operation but Zephy refused. I let her be because I didn’t want to make her cry again. On the way home, she went on a crying spree! It took us about 2 hours to get home and she was crying in the car the whole time! She couldn’t be pacified at all. I kept offering my breast but she wouldn’t take them. Once home, I successfully nursed her to sleep. I was not informed that my tongue-tied baby (no more) would do this!

I am sure I felt like the whole world would collapse on me when the next day she didn’t feed at all. In fact, she didn’t feed for another 3 weeks! I was so devastated! My partner was a witness to how much this has affected my sanity so we just came to a consensus that we would just exclusively pump which was not a problem because I was able to pump more than enough as I had oversupply issues then.

I am definite that direct breastfeeding is the perfect way of feeding Zephy because of its practicality, convenience, and best of all health benefits so I continued offering my breast even though I’d get frustrated each time my boobs get rejected.”

However, on the second day of her ties snipped, my supply went down drastically that I only managed to pump 1 ounce per boob. I know how much my baby will benefit from my breastmilk so I still pumped whatever I could. However, I am definite that direct breastfeeding is still the perfect way of feeding Zephy because of its practicality, convenience, and best of all, health benefits so I continued offering my breast even though I’d get frustrated each time my boobs get rejected. This went on for 3 weeks until finally, just a few days short of her 1st month, she latched on! I was so ecstatic that I cried happy tears!

Zephy, my champion nurser at 9 months

My Champion Nurser

Even though I’ve had to deal with other breastfeeding issues with a tongue-tied baby such as nipple confusion and refusal to feed on my other boob, I can say I did well with this one. At 9 months, Zephy is a champion nurser. She feeds whenever she pleases, sometimes even unassisted. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than a newborn who isn’t feeding. So, take this from me, if you want to have one less problem to worry about with breastfeeding especially in the beginning, I’ll have that one quick visit to the pedia/pedia dentist at the earliest time possible!  Happy breastfeeding!



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