After eight weeks of agony during feeding, eight weeks of curling my ties and crying when Ziggy latched, eight weeks of being told ‘this is normal and it will get better’, we had a diagnosis. Ziggy was tongue and lip tied.
Within 24 hours of that diagnosis, we were heading to the dentist to get it fixed.
Everything was happening so quickly. I felt like I was in the spin cycle of a washing machine, churning around and around. My thoughts were a jumbled mess. Pain and exhaustion had taken their toll and the past few days were a blur. I had no idea what to expect. I had read the information pamphlet, but my brain was tired and I worried. Would it hurt? Would he be upset? And would it help us?
The procedure for the tongue-tie is called a lingual frenectomy. Using a water jet, they cut the short piece of flesh under the tongue so that the tongue can move more freely and suckle properly. Then the same is done to the tight bit of skin in the middle of the upper lip. There are much fancier words for it, but in a nutshell, that is what happens.
Friends who have had this done told me it would be fine. It’s okay Em, they said, she slept right through it. It was fast. He was great. It will be okay.
Ziggy didn’t get that memo. Oh no no no. He screamed. He screamed and he writhed and he twisted and tears flowed down his face. It was horrible. They had to hold him down. AJ and I stood there in the corner of the room, watching our child in obvious distress, feeling helpless.
Shit, just writing these words again, over a year later and I am starting to cry. I wanted to grab him off that table and hold him close. AJ wanted to punch them. But we couldn’t do either, so we held each other instead and tried to hold back tears as we watched out little boy thrash around.
In less ten minutes it was over. Ten minutes feels like ten hours when your baby is so upset and you are powerless. I hated every second of it.
As soon as it was over, AJ scooped him up, passed him to me and I comforted him the best way I knew how, with a boob. His crying stopped and his tears dried, as he settled down for a huge feed and snuggles with his mama. The staff were great, Just sit there as long as you need, they told us. So we did, we stayed in the room until he was done and we were composed enough to leave.
The next day saw Ziggy and I back in the Lactation Consultant’s office for more help. Now his tongue and lip were free to move, we needed to help him figure out what to do with it. She showed me ‘laid back breastfeeding’ where you recline back, pop bub on your chest, put your hands under their feet to give them a platform to push off, and then let them squirm their way to your nipple and latch on. Much like they do when they are born.
The first few times he got frustrated, but it didn’t take long for Ziggy to get the hang of it. Watching him bob his head around, plop onto my boob and start gutsing out, without any pain, was awesome. For the first time I was feeding my son and my tears were tears of joy not tears of pain.
I also learnt the art (well it was then, now it’s as easy as breathing) of lying on my side and feeding him. We do this almost every night now. One of my favourite places to be is on the couch or in bed, on my side with Ziggy at my breast, feeding to sleep.
It took a few weeks, but his latch got better, and the pain started to decrease. My nipple cream was no longer within arm’s reach all day long, and I started to enjoy feeding him instead of dreading it.
Looking at Ziggy and I now, 13 months after having his tongue and lip tie fixed, you wouldn’t be able to guess we had such a rocky start. I feed him everywhere and anywhere. I can feed him in a carrier, I can feed him while walking through a market. I don’t need to think about his latch, or his positioning, we just get on with it.
Now, when I look back at all we went through, and I hear stories from other mums who have been where Ziggy and I were, I am upset. And angry. And disappointed. I kept telling everyone, my midwife, my GP, the Child Wellness provider that breastfeeding hurt. That it was an unbearable pain, that I would rather give birth again than experience this pain. But I was told over and over ‘This is normal, this will get better’.
I wish there had been more done for Ziggy and I. How hard would it have been to have his mouth checked? I was a new mum, with no clue that a tongue tie was even a thing. And now, having shared my story, other mums have shared with me their journey. Mums who were told they ‘didn’t produce enough milk’ or that their baby will ‘never feed properly’ because they were born premature. Mums who, before their baby was born said ‘I won’t be able to breastfeed because my mum couldn’t’. And many of these mums find out, usually when it is too late, that their babies had tongue ties, or lip ties, or both.
Some people think that tongue and lip ties are a ‘fad’. These people have obviously never been in the position we were. There is no doubt in my mind, that this procedure saved our breastfeeding relationship.
If you, the mother of your child, feel that something is wrong, chances are it is. You are with your child 24/7. You know what is normal. You know what isn’t. But often we get silenced, or are made to feel silly, and we don’t have the confidence to speak up.
Please, if you find yourself in the same position I was, don’t wait. Ask for help. If you don’t get help when you ask, ask someone else. Ask and ask and ask until someone takes notice and you get the help you need.
Emily Holdaway is a New Zealand parenting blogger gaining local recognition. She is a first time mum, sharing her journey to natural parenting through her entertaining and surprisingly open blog Raising Ziggy . Emily is an active volunteer of Waikato Baby Carriers, she attends La Leche meetings and also Kangatraining; supporting local businesses and offering advice and the benefits of these groups to other kiwi parents. In her spare time, you’ll find her in the garden with Ziggy and the chooks.