Image from newborns.stanford.edu
Trust me, when I first said Ankyloglossia, it was a slow drawn-out process, with me stumbling through the sounds until I finally got it. Before Rainbow was born, I hadn’t a clue what it was, because I knew it by another term; Tongue-Tied. And Rainbow was born with it. Ankyloglossia, or tongue-tied, is a congenital oral anomaly where the lingual frenulum connects the underside of the tongue to the bottom of the mouth. Cases of tongue tie can range from mild to complete. Rainbow had the latter.
Prior to his birth, we had no inkling that he would be born with it, I mean how could we, they don’t do scans of inside the mouth. And it wasn’t until our discharge day that we even found out. Now a bit of a back story, Hubby was born with a partial tongue, a mild case which he had cut when he was little over a year. Neither of us thought that it would be present in our children as no other family members had it. It was just one of those things.
When the Rainbow was first born, the pediatricians examined him and then placed him in Hubby’s arm while I was being stitched up. It wasn’t until we got to the recovery room and him and I did the skin to skin and began to nurse that I knew something wasn’t ‘right’. I breastfed the Princess for 6 months with absolutely NO problems. She latched immediately, was a scheduled nurser and weaned very easily. It was my favourite part of being a mother to a baby. I loved that closeness and I couldn’t wait to have that again with Rainbow. He suckled for a very long time his first time and it felt awkward and uncomfortable. I adjusted his position numerous times and still it didn’t feel how it felt with the Princess. I didn’t say anything to the nurse because I thought, “Hey, every baby is different.”
But then I began to feel flicking when he nursed and then after he was done, I was covered in deep purple bruises. Then after a few more feeds came the blood and scabs. It was then that I asked the nurse for help.
“Listen, I breastfed my daughter, but this just isn’t feeling right. Can you help me?” I asked.
The nurses did just that, helped set him up and gave me extra pillows. Still the Rainbow wouldn’t latch properly and it began to hurt more and more. I asked the nurse if there was a lactation consultant available on the ward that would be able to come talk with us. I began to second guess myself. Had I not done this 4 years ago? I didn’t have any problems then, why can’t I do it now?
On our discharge day, the lactation consultant came in, took Rainbow to examine his mouth.
“Yes, I know the problem,” she said. “He’s tongue-tied.”
I was baffled and Hubby and I exchanged looks. Well, at least we know who he got it from. She then opened his mouth to show us. She informed us that it was a complete tie that would require a cut as the tip of his tongue was completely attached to the bottom of his mouth. Rainbow wasn’t able to stick his tongue out and draw my breast into his mouth therefore not getting the proper latch. She then told us that most hospitals and doctors like to wait until the child is older and have a full procedure involving anaesthesia and for the children to be completely under. However, a hospital in the East end of Toronto could do a similiar procedure, a simple in and out, without any drugs. We had asked if it was such a simple procedure then why would certain doctors want it to be a drawn out process. She informed us that some doctors think that the tongue will stretch out on its own and if you can bottle feed then there are other feeding options besides breastfeeding. She also let us know that children with tongue tie are more likely to be delayed in speaking, some can’t speak at all until it’s cut and speech impediments are very common. Frankly, it kind of seemed to me that if they made them have the surgery, it was more of a money-making thing than anything else. In the meantime, she showed us the football hold that would be easier on him and me.
The lactation consultant called the breastfeeding clinic in the east end and set up our appointment. We were discharged on a Tuesday and the day procedure would be done that Thursday. And in those few days, it was a challenge. Now the picture below shows what breastfeeding is supposed to look and feel like.
Now this is what it felt like for me breastfeeding a boy with a complete tongue-tie.
It was hands down the most painful experience beside giving birth of course. I would be nursing my baby boy and wailing the entire time. He would come unlatched and his mouth would be red with blood from me and pieces of skin on his lips. Hubby got up and brought me a bottle of formula to give him. Then I started to cry even harder. I wanted to breastfeed my son, no questions asked, but I knew that I was in pain and I was concerned he wasn’t getting enough food because he couldn’t latch properly. I was getting the “breast is best” guilt from all sides. The lactation consultants, friends, family, doctors, nurses, you name it, I was getting it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for breastfeeding, but I was also put in a situation where I had to supplement. Hubby and I were tracking his pees and poops, his feeds and how long and would offer 1 ounce of formula a day to ensure he was getting enough to eat and to give my poor mangled lady bits a break. I was crying to my friend about the guilt I was feeling and she said this gem to me;
“Just imagine how much guilt people would give you if you starved him to death?”
That was enough to make me relax and be comfortable in my decision to supplement.
Finally Thursday rolled around and we arrived at Toronto East General Hospital and registered. We were whisked into the breastfeeding clinic and were consulted with a lactation consultant and RN. They witnessed our feedings and noticed the poor latch and my pain. They then paged the pediatric surgeon. We made the journey upstairs to the pediatric floor and answered the necessary questions. The surgeon asked me if I wanted to stay in the room with Hubby while they did it. I held Hubby’s hand but looked towards the wall. They hadn’t even began the procedure and Rainbow began to cry and so did I. The surgeon said it was probably best if I left the room. So out I went and cried in the hall. I could hear my little man wailing and all I wanted to do was run in and say “Stop hurting my baby.” They brought him out, his mouth red with blood and we were sent back down to the clinic to breastfeed as it stops the bleeding. The surgeon did advise us that he had a very thick tie and he may likely need to have further surgery as he gets older by an ENT specialist. She showed us some exercises to do with him to get him to stretch out his tongue.
Hubby waited outside the clinic and the poor RN acted as my therapist as I cried and breastfed my son. I was glad that I could finally feed him but felt so bad he had been in pain. But now that him and I are able to enjoy feedings now, I knew I made the right decision. The procedure was done without medication however, back in the days where women gave birth at home, Midwives would keep their pinky fingernail longer than the rest so she could simply cut the tie when the baby was born. Eeek!
Sometimes feeds are painful and it takes some time for proper latches, it is much much better than before. I know that if we didn’t have the procedure done, I would have ultimately given up on breastfeeding.