The first week of my eldest son’s life were quite stressful. Due to a short breathing episode my son had after birth we we were air-ambulanced to the nearest neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) which was over 1,200 kilometres away. Exhausted yet excited, we left the NICU after 7 days. The doctors ran everything from a gazillion blood tests to X-Rays and Heart Tests and determined that he was in good health. We thought the most challenging part was over, but it was really just beginning.
When I was pregnant with my son – my first baby – I knew I wanted to breastfeed. Whether I would or wouldn’t breastfeed wasn’t even a question for me. I wanted my baby to get the most nutritious food, just as much as I wanted to experience the amazing bond that so many moms raved about.
To my complete surprise, breastfeeding was one of the hardest things that I have ever done in life. Even though I did breastfeed my first son, I feel like I very much failed at it. My goal was to exclusively breastfeed him for the first year, but the cards were very much stacked against us. I just didn’t know it at the time.
My sweet baby had a tremendously difficult time latching, which I hear is not uncommon. I had never breastfed or even watched another woman breastfeed, so I had no clue what it was supposed to look or feel like. The evening breastfeeding class that I took in my third trimester wasn’t particularly useful either.
When I told our NICU Lactation Consultant that it seemed like my son kept sliding off my breast, she replied “Oh, your nipples may be too short. Here, try this breast shield”. She insisted the latch looked fine and I should just use the shield for nursing.
The next three months were mental and physical torture for my baby, my husband, and myself. I had major problems breastfeeding my son. He nursed anywhere from 1-1.5 hours, every three hours. For three months, I slept with him in the reclining chair with my boob out. Every time I asked another breastfeeding mom about it, I’d hear things like “He’s just cluster feeding… Keep nursing him however long he needs it” or, “Just hang in there breastfeeding gets easier later on” or, “Oh, he’s just using you as a human pacifier, don’t let him nurse that long”. My family physician suggested switching him to formula without even asking any questions to determine the cause of our breastfeeding problem. Because we lived in a very remote area, I didn’t have easy access to lactation consultants.
We endured the first three months, slowly watching our son go from nursing for 1.5 hours using a nipple shield to completely refusing the breast, then to exclusively pumping and bottle feeding. By the third month he was showing serious problems even with bottle feeding, and started to fight this as well.
It’s gut-wrenching watching your tiny baby, who is already on the low end of the growth chart, screaming at the breast, refusing to latch and slowly developing the same behaviour towards the bottle.
Finally we were able to meet up with a lactation consultant. She was heaven-sent. Within ten minutes of meeting my son and watching him scream with my nipple on his wide-open lips, she told me “Your baby has a tongue and lip tie”. My jaw dropped. How could this woman who’d just met us, tell me what was wrong? This was something that seven NICU paediatricians, one NICU lactation consultant, numerous NICU and maternity health nurses, two family physicians, and dozens of breastfeeding mothers missed.
We followed up on her recommendation, and had the tongue-tie and lip-tie fixed. My son’s bottle feedings went without any problems – not even the slightest problems – following immediately after the procedure!
I couldn’t believe we had to go through so much, just because my son had a tongue and lip tie, and that nobody noticed for so long. Unfortunately, he had developed such an aversion to my breasts, that I was never able to get him to latch again. I was lacking the knowledge, strength, and right support to work towards breastfeeding him again. I still somewhat grieve the missed opportunity to have this special breastfeeding relationship with my first son, that so many other moms rave about.
Seven months ago, when we welcomed our second son into this world, things started off in a similar fashion. However, this time we were prepared and had my son’s ties corrected immediately. Things went completely differently. To this day, I still exclusively breastfeed my son, something I treasure and will never take for granted.
I’ve done so much research revolving around tongue and lip ties and the grief they can cause to breastfeeding mothers and babies. I have made it a mission of mine to share my story, how tongue and lip ties affected my son and me, and spread much needed awareness about tongue and lip ties with new and expecting moms. I even started a website recently, something I never thought I’d do. It’s a topic that’s very dear to my heart, and I hope I can help other moms avoid going through what we went through.
Katharina, 32, is momma to two hyper boys. Leonhardt is 2 ½ and Gabriel is 8 months old.
They live in Gibsons, Brtitish Columbia, Canada
Katharina’s website BreastfeedSuccessfully.com was born out of her mission to spread awareness about tongue and lip ties and her desire to help other moms navigate their very own tongue and lip tie journeys. Her refreshing approach bypasses the breastfeeding VS formula debate and supports all mums, including those who combine both methods of feeding.