Well, I can show you my nipples if you want…
I found myself saying this to complete strangers in the early postpartum days.
I’m not really the nudist type, so let me explain what brought me to this point.
As soon as my daughter was born, I tried to latch her to my breast. I struggled.
I had just stopped nursing my son about 6 months earlier when he self weaned during my pregnancy. As a toddler, he latched himself. I didn’t have to do anything- even wake up sometimes. So latching a newborn felt clumsy and foreign to me. At the hospital we got her on but it did not feel right. I was vocal about it. Especially as a few hours and several feedings went by, I told everyone that came in the room. It hurts, it doesn’t feel right. But everyone said I was doing well.
I heard several theories why it hurt- I just stopped breastfeeding my son so I don’t remember how it is to nurse a newborn. My nipples are still sensitive from pregnancy. I need to try another position. Everyone had something different to say. But from my perspective, as I latched my baby, I could see she wasn’t opening her mouth wide enough. I started to silently wonder if she had a tongue or lip tie.
Two years ago when I had my son, everyone looked in his mouth at the hospital, especially the lactation consultant, who came to see me several times during my hospital stay. We had no problems nursing. He basically crawled up my chest after birth and latched himself beautifully. There wasn’t much I needed to do. With my daughter it was different. Lactation only came once. The nurses only asked how nursing was going- rather than watching how it was going. Nobody looked in her mouth. Not one person.
Every shift change, when a new nurse came in and was introduced to me, they were told “she’s a veteran breast feeder, she nursed her son until he was one and a half. She’s knows what she is doing and is doing great!” My response was always the same, I would say I don’t think so- I think something is wrong. Again, I was very vocal. And very dismissed. Now here’s the thing, and this is what gets me. So many new mothers at this point, would stop talking, stop speaking up. Being dismissed and essentially ignored by professionals when you are so vulnerable, like after giving birth, is a nail in the coffin. I felt incompetent, unheard, and downright embarrassed. I’m hearing them say that I should be fine, I am fine, but I’m not fine. And these are the people I have to ask for help, over and over again. Finally, one of my nurses looked in my daughters mouth, “oh she has a lip tie, do you see it?” She showed me her mouth and tried to inform me about it. Clearly, she was educated and that came through as she explained to me that my daughter had this restriction. I honestly in that moment felt relief. It’s not me, there is an issue, and like I said, I was already thinking it. I’m a social worker, means that I am trained to look at an issue, and problem solve it. I can be tenacious about it and “stop at nothing.” It’s where I shine professionally. Using those skills, I immediately went to my trusted sources, which happen to be on Instagram. I researched lip ties and what to do about them. I looked at pictures, I watched videos, I read and read and read. But like I said, I had trusted sources. I have the background, I have the resources and support. But mostly, I had it in me to do it.
After I delivered my son, a cloud of darkness and emptiness came over me. Postpartum depression hit instantly. I will tell you now, if this had happened again, or if my son had a feeding issue, that would have been the end of the road for us. There is no way I could have advocated for breastfeeding going through the trenches of depression and anxiety.
By the time the hospitals pediatrician came in to discharge us, I had already reached out to schedule a consult with a pediatric dentist in my area. When he came in, they weighed her and she had lost quite a bit of weight. I told him nursing has been painful and I was concerned. I told him that I was informed that she had a lip tie. He immediately went off the rails. “Which nurse told you that?!” “I hate it when these nurses say things like that without consulting with me first!” Obviously I wouldn’t tell him which nurse told me. I wasn’t about to rat her out. And by the end of his rant, I stopped taking HIM seriously and just assumed he was an asshole. In his fury, he quickly opened my daughters mouth and said, “no, that is a normal frenulum. There is no tie in there.” Then he told me, “I know they say that nursing shouldn’t hurt, but that’s just not true. Some pain with nursing is normal and fine. My wife had horrible pain that would shoot from her breast to her back every time she nursed our son.” I looked at him and said, “well that sounds horrible. I feel bad for your wife.” And I meant that in more ways than one. I think/hope he knew.
So, we went home, again dismissed and discouraged. But I wasn’t stopping. I went ahead and scheduled a virtual consult with my favorite IBCLC I found on Instagram years ago. After meeting with Aubri, I had a plan for my poor nipples. I had a plan to feed my girl.
Two days later we went to my daughters regular pediatricians office. “She has a mild lip tie, you can have it looked at if you want, but it’s probably not impacting breastfeeding.”
Well, by now I have had it. Within 3 days of her little life, I was no longer feeling human. My breasts were ready to explode and my nipples were absolutely shredded. “Would you like to see my nipples?” I asked. Not to mention my baby had lost more weight. She was lethargic and barely getting through feeds. I was having to wake her for every one. It was stressful and I felt so worried for her. Again, had I been struggling with my depression or anxiety, this would have been the final straw.
Here is what I know. Oral ties are a place of emerging information. Pediatricians are NOT lactation consultants and their regular training on breastfeeding is minimal. Also, they were probably not taught about ties in medical school 10 or 20 years ago. As is true for any profession, especially within the medical community, as new research comes out, they need to be willing to learn about it. As a veteran mother I have learned that I need to trust my gut when it comes to parenting my babies. But also, I need to prioritize myself because no one else will. I could just give up and switch to formula or exclusively pump. But that’s not what I want to do. If I eventually have to, OK I will come to terms with it, I am a flexible person.
But I felt like I had to try to fix it.
Two days later when we went back to the pediatrician to have my daughters weight checked (we saw a different pedi), she dismissively said she has a mild lip tie, you can have it looked at if you want, but it’s probably not impacting breastfeeding. After two days of pumping and putting wound cream on my nipples, I again, couldn’t take it. “Do you want to see my nipples?” How can a stranger tell me, at a weight check appointment for my baby, that her lip tie is not impacting feeding? Luckily she had gained ONE ounce, but she was vomiting a lot and they were already talking about reflux. And it wasn’t just breastfeeding, she couldn’t latch on the bottle nipple either.
Finally, the day of her consult with the dentist arrived. He asked me a lot of good questions before even looking in her mouth to understand what was happening. “How has it impacted breastfeeding?” Just that question made me want to cry. “It’s not going well.”
My sweet girl had a grade four (not mild) lip tie and a grade two tongue tie. It was definitely impacting breastfeeding, and feeding in general.
When I look back on the whole journey to get to where we are now, I see a lot. I see a tired mom, but one in a much better place emotionally than I have been in before. Without much support from medical professionals actually looking at me and my daughter, I was able to create a care plan to deal with her feeding issue that included lactation and body work. I’ll say it again, there is NO WAY I could have done this when I was struggling with depression after having my son. This was an exercise in advocating for ME. I want to breastfeed her. I don’t want to be in pain. I know that breastfeeding should be pain free, despite what a man with useless nipples tells me it should feel like. I wanted this journey for myself. Luckily, I was able to achieve it.
Our Milky Moment,
Annie & Tiny C