Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Johanna Sargeant, Waedenswil, Zurich, Switzerland
Photos: Olga Bushkova
Tongue-tie diagnosis: finding an answer at last.
After almost six months of breastfeeding my little blue-eyed boy with a tube attached to my nipple, we are finally free. [I wrote about the start of my journey here: Milk Sharing.] Today is two weeks since he has needed a supplement, two weeks since I have washed out those feeding tubes, two weeks since he has pulled and whimpered at my nipple and bashed at my breast for more milk, and two weeks since we finally received some answers.
For five and a half months, I continued to be congratulated for all that we had managed, for the incredible start to life I had given him, for how strong I was for suffering through the challenges of using a Supplemental Nursing System for all that time, especially while having a toddler in the house, too. But these congratulations, from midwives, health nurses, lactation consultants, pediatricians, and gynecologists, seemed just a bid to accept my lack of milk and move on. These wonderful professionals were always understanding and patient with me, always asked the right questions, listened to my frustration and encouraged me to believe that I had gone above and beyond all that was possible. Yes, he was getting milk from me and, yes, I had managed to truly develop a breastfeeding relationship with him. For all that, I should be over the moon with joy. “I’m not really sure what else you want,” one lactation consultant said to me when I came to her with more questions. She patted me on the back. “So … congratulations, you’ve done a great job …?”
Nobody was giving me answers. It wasn’t even so much about finding a solution any more, it was about understanding why. Yes, I was happy with all that we had achieved, and no, feeding him was not a chore. The Supplemental Nursing System was our “normal” and, while at times I wanted to throw that thing against the wall and stomp on it until it was a pile of rubble, I knew that it had enabled me to breastfeed and for that, I loved it. My quest to breastfeed exclusively was not an all-consuming whirlwind of anxiety and depression, as indeed it had been with my firstborn, but I just could not accept the fact that nobody could explain why I couldn’t sustain him on my own.
We had been checked and checked again. I had had over 40 appointments with different lactation consultants. I had enough breast tissue, enough water, enough calories, enough love, enough skin-to-skin, enough patience. There was no problem with my hormones, no leftover placenta, no tongue-tie diagnosis, no latch issue. I was feeding him every one and a-half to three hours, around the clock. I was taking the maximum dosage of domperidone, after trying and continuing to consume seemingly all other known galactagogues on this earth. My beautiful midwife once said that although all of this is the absolute height of frustration, it is this mystery of breastfeeding that fascinates her; sometimes, there remain unanswered questions.
But I am not one to give up.
I wrote on my blog about my frustration and anger. In it, I posted a photo of my chubby baby boy with his tongue out. This beautiful photo of my happy bubba on the sand brought responses from people saying that it looked as if he had a tongue-tie. Three different professionals had earlier checked and ruled out this possibility. Three separate people now suggested we consult a specific pediatric dentist. Suddenly, my world was in a spin. I was both panicked and excited at the prospect of possible tongue-tie diagnosis. Perhaps the problem wasn’t my inability to make milk, after all.
The pediatric dentist diagnosed a posterior tongue-tie and a lip-tie. He doubted that cutting these ties would make any difference to breastfeeding, seeing as my baby had learned how to feed in his own special way. Any evidence that cutting these ties actually helps breastfeeding is anecdotal and more research is needed. The dentist said normally he wouldn’t rectify ties for a baby this old. Snipping ties at this point is a “first world procedure,” he called it. A baby who isn’t treated for this problem will still grow up to be healthy. He told me that he’d only do it for a mother who was incredibly passionate about breastfeeding, and he could only do the tongue, and not the lip. “That’s me,” I said. “Do it,” I said.
This is my second breastfeeding journey. My firstborn became fully bottle-fed after 11 torturous weeks of trying. I spent the first 34 weeks of my second pregnancy in a constant state of anxiety at the thought of having somehow to battle through agonizing months again.
After all that time questioning and doubting, of noticing how my breasts never changed in pregnancy or postnatally, of heavy-heartedly tossing out beautiful hand-made breast pads, of having counseling to allow me to bring my second baby to the breast at least once. After years of believing that my body is flawed, of hating my breasts and their futility, of believing that it must be some flaw in my mind, for lack of any other explanation, of struggling to come to terms with not being the mother I’d dreamed of being. After years of trusting experts. After searching and searching and searching for a miracle cure, spending thousands on foods, drinks, supplements, drugs and contraptions in the hope of increasing my milk supply, hunting high and low for anybody on this earth who might help me or understand what this feels like, I had an answer.
Today I packed away those tubes and those bottles, and I threw that half-empty box of formula in the bin. Today I am breastfeeding exclusively.