Breastfeeding: Natural, But Not Easy

When I asked to write a guest blog here, and gave my topic idea, I was told no-one had written about it yet. I'm not sure whether that's because there aren't any breastfeeding mamas here who want to speak about it, or if they do but don't know how to because of the nature of the topic being one that causes quite a bit of tension amongst mothers. I'm sticking to my chosen topic however, because it is something I am very passionate about and I believe that there are others going through what I went through, who may need this, and may benefit from reading it.

So yes, my topic? Breastfeeding.

Before I begin, I will give you a little introduction to who I am. My name is Shannon, I'm 22 years old and live in West Sussex, half an hour drive from Brighton, with my husband and toddler. I'm a mama to one boy, his name is Logan and he is almost 17 months old. My Instagram account is @mama_wolverine if you feel like taking a peek at our day-to-day life. I'm a stay at home mum, my husband works in tool hire for Jewson, which is just over the fence from our flat. I suppose if I must give myself a title within the mum community, I'm a crunchy mum... I had to google that to make sure it was the correct term I was looking for, haha! We love nature, Logan loves the outdoors and I love letting him explore it in any way he wants to. He also LOVES his milkies.

Even before we fell pregnant, before I'd even met Jon in fact, I thought about my family, my babies, I always knew I was meant to be a mother. It was my biggest dream, my only real dream. Along with the idea of being a mum to a large family (I want at least 4 more! I know - I'm crazy!), I always knew that I would breastfeed. So on February 16th, 2017, when the little love of my life was born, I was scared that he didn't drag himself up my chest and latch on perfectly the way I had been shown in the antenatal class I signed up for through the NHS. They focused so little on what happens after birth; all I did see was that babies will instinctively breast crawl, latch on, and ba-da-bing ba-da-boom, you're a breastfeeding mum...

I'm not going to go too deep into the benefits of breastfeeding to you as a mother and to your baby, but some will be mentioned here and there. What I'm here to write about today is the struggles I have faced and how I've overcome them, to get to where we are now, where I am breastfeeding my almost-17 month old still with no end in sight. I'm focusing on one of many - today, I'm talking to you about tongue-tie.

Now, Logan did eventually latch, not too long after birth. "He's latched perfectly," I was told numerous times by multiple midwives. But for the next week or so, my nipples became sore and cracked, they looked blistered, feeding Logan was painful enough that I cried through most feeds. Sometimes, we'd struggle to get a deep latch, or a latch at all. The midwives visiting our home weren't concerned and they didn't take me too seriously because "he looks like he is latched well" and that was that. I convinced myself I was just a worried first-time mother who was being silly over nothing. And for a short time after being dismissed from the midwives' care, things did seem to improve.

After a month or so, our breastfeeding relationship became increasingly difficult. Logan began to scream and cry whenever I put him to the breast, it could take anywhere between 5 minutes and 1.5 hours to get him to calm down and latch on. Once he had latched, hewould stay on for no more than 30 seconds before coming off and starting all over again. This would happen a few times at least before he'd finally settle on the boob, and if you walked in at that point, you'd have no idea what struggle had just taken place. He looked content, happy.

I visited two breastfeeding clinics, called my health visitors, visited the doctor, went to the weighing clinic to talk to a midwife or health visitor there... No-one could help me. The same suggestions were given to me - a leap, a phase, positioning, you're just tired, work on the latch, maybe my supply isn't good (the truth here is that only 1-5% of women physically cannot produce enough to feed their baby so if you are told this, please do not take it as fact - dig more, find out more, have it checked by breastfeeding professionals before you lie down and admit defeat). I was given advice such as "pump and bottle feed", "give him formula instead", "give a dummy, he's not really hungry" etc.

I was brushed off and ignored because Logan was gaining weight, wetting his nappies, and otherwise he was clinically well.

Until one day, Logan would not latch at all, he absolutely refused and was not backing down for anything. None of my usual methods of calming him and getting him to eventually latch were working, and I, of course, began to panic, which doesn't help the situation. Baby's pick up on your emotions. After some time, he stopped wetting his nappies and I began to worry more than I had before. I ended up making my husband call 111, and we were told to take Logan to the Royal Alexandra Children's Hospital in Brighton. Without packing a bag or anything, we got in the car and drove the half an hour journey. When we got there, the nurses did the routine checks they do and were prepared to dismiss us. This time, I managed to speak up and told them I would not leave without some help, I wouldn't leave knowing that my son was going to continue as he was and dehydrate. I asked for a pump so I could relieve my breasts which were fuller than they had ever been, rock hard and painful to touch.

The nurse left the room and came back with a small bottle of formula.

Tears flooded my eyes, I cried and cried and cried. The nurse was less than sympathetic. Another nurse came in with a pump and left. The first nurse asked what was wrong, I couldn't speak through my tears, my husband explained that I didn't want to give my baby formula, I wanted to breastfeed him. She tried convincing me that it was for the best that I give him the formula, "you can always try to breastfeed again. Maybe you can combination feed." NO. It was not going to happen. I emptied my breasts and continued offering them to Logan. I know it would have been easier in a way to just try giving Logan a bottle, but my heart has always been set on breastfeeding exclusively, and I couldn't give it up, I just couldn't.

While we were there, he did latch and take some milk. They then took some blood from him - if you've ever had to watch or hold your baby down while they insert the needle and try to draw blood from their teeny tiny veins, you understand the pain I felt, listening to his screams. It is not something I ever want to endure again.

We were then told to spend the night. Throughout the night they continued with routine monitoring and telling us they found nothing wrong. Then the morning came and we were told we could leave. I still had no answer. I told them I wanted Logan to be checked for ties. But that never happened. I had no fight left in me and we left.

Our battles continued though. I found ways to get Logan latched and eating, and he did continue to gain weight, but nothing about it was easy. I knew that it wasn't supposed to be this way. I could only get him to eat 1 of 2 ways... 1. I had to bounce on the birth ball from start to finish. 2. I had to feed him in the back of a moving car. Neither of which were ideal, clearly, but it was the only way I could get him to feed, and so I did them. Over and over and over and over again for a month or so after the hospital stay. We even had to keep popping in and out of our own wedding reception to go for bumpy drives around an empty field in order to get him fed well.

I continued going to breastfeeding clinics, speaking to health visitors, and writing on Facebook support groups I was added to by a new friend I was put in touch with, Kezia. She had been through similar with her son and gave me endless advice, support and encouragement, and without her I don't think I would be breastfeeding still.

Eventually went to the doctor and asked to be referred to a hospital in Southampton where they would deal with tongue-ties in babies over 1 month old on the NHS. Can you guess what he did? Because, if someone else was telling me this story, I certainly wouldn't have guessed it...

He laughed at me. He told me I was being ridiculous. "He's gaining weight, he is well, continue as you are."

With the continued support from Kezia and the lady who ran one of the groups, I decided I had no choice but to pay for a breastfeeding counsellor. We were not in a position where spending that money was easy, it was a strain and we suffered for it, but in terms of breastfeeding, it was what we needed. The breastfeeding counsellor asked some questions, listened to my story, did a unbelievable quick assessment and confirmed my fears. Tongue-tie. She was unable to give an official diagnosis, but did refer me to a private clinic that dealt only with ties, and I called for an appointment straight after she left.

It cost a lot to get the appointment to have him assessed, and it took an hour and a half in the car to get to the clinic, but once there, his tongue-tie was confirmed. 80% posterior tongue-tie. Thankfully, once diagnosed, they were ready and able to get it sorted there and then. So, they explained what they were going to do, how the procedure worked and a quick summary on aftercare (further explained afterwards!). They wrapped him in a little towel so he couldn't knock their hands about while they cut it, and she warned us that is usually takes 2 snips to release the tie, so I prepared myself for the crying and having to wait longer to comfort him.

Everything was ready and it was time to cut it...

There was an audible ping! It took one cut, and his tongue pinged free. I grabbed him and put him straight to my boobs to comfort him and, in case you didn't know, breast milk is fantastic for stopping bleeding. The lady who cut it was surprised at the ping, in her many many years experience, she'd not had that before.

After that appointment, we had to do some exercises/stretches multiple times a day to encourage movement and to prevent re-attachment. I believe it was recommended that we do them 4 times a day, but I did them more than that as re-attachment scared the pants off of me! So I did the stretches before most feeds for a few weeks. It took a few days before I saw any improvement but when I started noticing the improvements, I felt such relief. It didn't take too long before he stopped getting upset at the boob at all, maybe a month or so, if that. But even just a small reduction in the upset was enough to relight the flame inside me and it kept me going, knowing that it was getting better.

I was so close to giving up breastfeeding - in fact, Kezia has said before that she thought I was going to on more than one occasion, and she was prepared to support me regardless. I am so proud that I managed to keep my strength and determination up despite the exhaustion, anxiety, stress and heartache. Throughout those few months, I discovered that I had strength in me that I never knew about before. Whether it was there and I didn't know, or whether it was born when Logan was, I don't know, but it's here now and I am grateful because here I am, over a year after all that, writing this blog and able to say I am still breastfeeding and I see no end in sight for us.

So, that's my story. I thought I'd end this with a little bit of tongue-tie information. Before I do, please make sure you remember that not all the symptoms may be present, so get it checked anyway. In my case, I experienced no symptoms in myself! Which is why I didn't push too hard to begin with. (I will underline the symptoms we experienced so you can see how few/many may be present.)

Symptoms in baby:

  • Tongue can't poke out past the lips

  • Tip of the tongue can't touch the roof of the mouth

  • Lack of movement with tongue (side-to-side)

  • Heart-shaped tongue

  • Inability to latch on to the breast from birth

  • Inability to maintain a deep latch

  • Inability to maintain a sustained latch

  • Poor weight gain

  • Poor transfer of milk from breast to mouth

  • Multiple attempts at latching or maintaining latch

  • Baby not swallowing while on the breast

  • Baby feeding ‘all the time’

  • Baby appearing unsatisfied after a feed

  • Makes a clicking sound as they feed

Symptoms in mama:

  • Distortion and or compression of the nipples resulting in pain, damage, loss of tissue

  • Incomplete milk transfer by baby which may result in engorgement and mastitis

  • Poor initiation and maintenance of maternal milk supply

  • Reduced milk supply

  • Absent swallowing sound while baby is at the breast

So, as you can see... Only 3 of those symptoms... But they were extremely bad. I can't even begin to accurately explain the screams and cries, the anxiety, the difficulty. It was the hardest thing I've ever faced. If you are struggling with breastfeeding, whether you believe your baby has a tie or not, get them checked because it's not always spotted easily unless you're trained to see it. Go to your health visitor, midwife or GP, or go straight to a breastfeeding counsellor or tongue-tie specialist if you can.

Tongue-tie was not our only problem, but it was a BIG one amongst a list including CMPA, reflux, oversupply and overactive letdown. I'm hoping I can write more here about the other issues we faced, but for now, that is it from me.

Breastfeeding is natural, but that doesn't mean it comes naturally.

If you are struggling, firstly, take a deep breath. Then seek support and advice wherever you can. There are Facebook groups, breastfeeding support groups, check your local family center, ask health visitors to point you in the direction of some support. Know that you are not alone in this. Feel free to send me a message on Instagram if you need a chat, support, advice, a point in the right direction for a good group to join, have any questions. Anything, breastfeeding related or not.

Breastfeeding is natural, but if it isn't happening naturally for you, remember this - it doesn't mean you're incompetent, it doesn't mean you are lacking, it does not mean you're not cut out for breastfeeding. You are still an amazing mama, an amazing person, do not let it make you question your worth.

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