When I think about our parenting journey so far I feel like if I told the story start to finish it could be a bit boring. Of course it hasn’t been for us but I was sure I would just babble on and on. So I’ll talk about our biggest challenge which was breastfeeding. A little background first though.
My husband James and I were blessed with our perfect baby boy Xenon James. He was born a tiny 2.74kg following an induced 4 hour labour ending in a last minute spinal block and forceps delivery. Pretty traumatic to be honest. He had stopped growing so they wanted him out quick smart. So he was tiny and my body was in shock. Luckily though, he was healthy and wonderfully perfect. He was so quiet and except for regular sneezing he barely made a sound.
My mum didn’t breastfeed me, so it was always in the back of my mind that I may not be able to. But at the same time I thought surely me being so fit and healthy would mean an abundance of milk? Nope. Xenon wasn’t able to latch for the first 24 hours so I had to express colostrum and get on the breast pump. There wasn’t a lot of colostrum and Xenon’s blood glucose was low so we were faced very quickly with the decision to give him some formula. Given his size for us it was an easy decision to say yes.
We stayed in hospital 2 nights while we tried to get him to latch. It was very frustrating as every nurse told us to do something different. As soon as he did latch we were sent home. But while he was latching, it just didn’t feel right but what did I know? I had no experience in this and the midwives kept telling me the latch looked great. I was very confused and didn’t know what to believe.
For the second and third nights at home, we had a very unhappy and unsettled baby. He just cried and cried so in desperation I would just put him on my breast. Which in hindsight was the right thing to do. Technically it was cluster feeding right? So the more I fed him should have meant more milk right? Not for us. There was nothing there for him and after a few minutes he would come off and cry. Our poor tiny boy, we had no idea what was wrong or how to help him. James and I sat up with him together all night trying everything we could. Eventually he would sleep on James’ chest, James asleep too and me in constant panic it was dangerous. It was torture.
After 5 days with dry nappies, too much weight loss, and a husky voice we realised our baby was starving. I just didn’t have any milk for him… well not enough anyway. So it was a no brainer for us to top up with formula while we waited for my milk. As soon as he had a full tummy we had our quiet and chilled baby back. He literally ate and slept and barely made a sound except for those adorable sneezes. But the latch still wasn’t right and despite midwives telling me it looked great I just knew it wasn’t so I called a lactation consultant. She came in the next day super confident and full of knowledge and with her help Xenon latched like a pro.
We were put on a system of 3 hourly breastfeeds, followed by a formula top up and 10 minutes of sitting on the breast pump. In addition there was motillium, nipple vasoconstriction, supplements and every lactation food under the sun. She did say he had ‘mild’ tongue and lip ties but they weren’t impacting him functionally and that having them revised was a fad. So we would be fine right? In two weeks I’d have a heap of milk and be well on our way to a successful breastfeeding experience right? We felt optimistic and together James and I did everything religiously and worked together as a team.
Frustratingly within 2 days I just knew the latch wasn’t right again but despite my calls and texts to the lactation consultant she wouldn’t come back and told me to persist. I told her my nipples were coming out flat and she told me from memory they were oval shaped anyway. Wtf??? Another week went by with not much progress and not a lot of change to my milk. I noticed Xenon’s top lip was consistently folding under and he just couldn’t open his mouth very wide and I’d had enough. My baby had ties and something had to be done. I put my foot down and asked for a referral and we were lucky enough to get a cancellation appointment the next day. He did indeed have both a tongue and lip tie and they were significant. How was this missed? How did the doctors, nurses and lactation consultants not see this? That very day Xenon’s ties were revised and he immediately latched like a pro.
We were overjoyed and set……weren’t we? Nope. No one told me it could take weeks for him to learn to use his new mouth properly. No one told me the latch would regress before it got better. When I did find this out I was shattered because by then I was exhausted and disheartened. I dreaded every feed and would cry and swear when we weren’t successful. I have no idea how my gorgeous baby would just quietly try, try and try again to latch without fuss feed after feed. What a gentle little soul. He just kept trying for me.
My unhelpful lactation consultant had insisted she wasn’t supposed visit again until 2 weeks post revision. In tears I told her I needed help, I wasn’t coping, we weren’t getting anywhere. Over the phone she told me to get a nipple shield but of course it was massive, I had no idea how to use it and Xenon gagged and cried when we tried to use it. That was it for me. I couldn’t do it anymore. I desperately needed someone to tell me it was ok to stop trying. And it was ok. I had to stop comparing myself to other people because I wasn’t them, I didn’t have their story, I only had mine. My mental health was deteriorating and that wasn’t ok. I was so heartbroken and devastated it hadn’t worked for us but I also felt a massive weight lifted off my shoulders. All of a sudden I had all this time to spend with my baby instead of spending over an hour just trying to get through a feed cycle. Did I cry everyday for weeks? Hell yes. I grieved for months, I doubted myself and my decision regularly. But one look at my healthy and thriving baby boy as well as my own mental health told me it was ok.
I have stayed on facebook support pages for tongue and lip ties and being a Speech Pathologist I have also done more research and professional development on tongue and lip ties. It seems pretty clear that in time we may have been successful but this doesn’t make me regret my decision to stop. It also makes me sad to read people’s comments to other struggling mums not realizing that like me, they maybe want someone to tell them it’s ok to stop trying. It’s also ok to keep trying. I had to learn that everyone’s breaking point is different, everyone’s story is different and we should never compare ourselves to others. We have to find what is right for ourselves. Any decision is ok as long as it’s right for you and you only.
Having a baby that slept like a pro meant James and I had the energy to make another one at only 3 months postnatal.
So yep we have another baby boy on the way. We know ties can be genetic so we have a plan in place to have a tie savvy lactation consultant see our bub as soon as he is born. I am also going to start expressing at 35 weeks to encourage my milk to get a move on. But at the end of the day we can only try and having a 12 month old and a newborn is going to be challenging.
So we know it’s ok no matter what happens.