Fussy Babies, Tongue-Ties and Nursing Challenges

Matthias Johann 133Recently there have been alot of articles floating around on Facebook and other blogs regarding tongue ties and the challenges they pose for nursing babies. Reading these have reminded me of the very difficult six months following my last baby’s birth. In the past few months I’ve been wanting to write about this phase of my life, and I’m hoping that maybe it can be a help to others who might find themselves in similar shoes. While our family found some answers, I still have questions that I’m studying and researching…so this may end up being part one in a series! 🙂

For starters, a little background: my first pregnancy was challenging, especially for the first 20 weeks during which I was very sick. Towards the end, I ended up being border-line preeclamptic, and we were grateful that our little princess came safely, and a week early. Quite honestly, my labor and delivery the first time was “textbook” perfect: 8 hrs from start to finish, no complications, and with what we call in birth lingo an “uneventful postpartum”. While I never had an abundant supply of milk, nursing was fine, and she gained slowly but surely, being more of a petite little girl. She was on the fussy side (which, incidentally, runs in my husband’s family), and around 4 months I cut dairy out of my diet, which made a big difference in her personality. I still can’t say she was an “easy” baby, but she wasn’t excessively difficult, either. So, when little brother was on the way, I was happily surprised with how much better the pregnancy went the second time around. While I was queasy at times, and felt a bit picky about what I ate, I didn’t have the months of throwing up and severe nausea and weakness that I had the first time. The last couple of weeks I once again struggled with keeping my BP from going too high, but all in all everything went extremely well. Which, in turn, made me expect that nursing and baby care would go that much better the second time, as well. However, that was not to be the case…

When our little boy was born, he was an even 9 lbs, and nursed well right off the bat. Because he was doing so well with nursing those first two or three days, I made what I believe was my first mistake: I gave him a pacifier so I could sleep at night. I figured that he was nursing so well and so strongly, and since he was so chunky to begin with, and that it wouldn’t cause any problems…he was nursing constantly, and I just wanted a little bit of sleep! By week two, nursing started to become a battle. He would latch on for a second or two, then howl, arching his back, and fighting it. It wasn’t every time, but it increasingly got worse, so that by the time he was 3 weeks old I didn’t want to try to nurse him in public anywhere, as it took so much work. Like most babies, he lost weight the first week, but it took him an entire 3 weeks before he was back to his birth weight. At that point, we took his pacifier away, hoping that we were dealing with a case of nipple confusion, and that maybe after a few days we would be nursing fine. Those days were rough…he cried SO much, and wanted to suck constantly…and yet would fight me when I tried to nurse him. After a few days it got a bit better, but still not that great. By that time I wondered if maybe he was dealing with a sore tummy and food allergies, so I went off of dairy, hoping it would make a difference. After several days he seemed to be a little better, but not the drastic difference that his sister had made when I cut those foods out.

I still remember the day when he was about 6 weeks old. Joel was gone all day for a meeting (it was a Saturday, which normally was my day for a “break” in having daddy’s help with two little ones!), and I was expecting company for supper and for the night. My baby seriously cried ALL DAY LONG. I think he wore himself out enough to take two short naps, but that was it. Feeding was a battle, and I didn’t have a CLUE what to do with him. I laid him on the bed, and watched him cry, and all of a sudden it dawned on me that he could hardly move his tongue! He was howling, and his tongue literally looked as though it was tied to the bottom of his mouth. Now, being a midwife, I had seen tongue tied babies before, but all of those I had seen had been what they call “anterior ties”, meaning that you could see the membrane that tied the tongue. My baby had what I came to find out was a “posterior tie”…you could only see the membrane when you used your finger to lift his tongue up. After consulting with several midwife friends, I decided to take him to a doctor to have him checked out, and hopefully take care of the tie.

Monday morning I took him in to see the family practice doctor, which proved to be a disappointing visit. The doctor was very concerned about baby’s lack of growth, but totally shrugged off the tongue tie possibility, and instead wanted to do testing for a heart defect. I told her that I didn’t think a baby with a heart defect could scream as long as my baby could without wearing out, and declined the testing, telling her I would continue to monitor his heart and growth, and bring him back if there was any other concerns. I then returned home, called my dear nurse friend/fellow midwife down the road, and she agreed to come up and help me attempt to take care of the tongue tie. We did, and all of a sudden he could move his tongue unlike he had ever moved it before!

I was hoping this would be the end of the struggles, but it wasn’t the miraculous cure that I was hoping for. While he latched better, it still wasn’t where it needed to be. I could feel my milk supply dropping, despite eating quality and quantity foods (I gained 7 lbs. just trying to increase my supply!), and taking different herbs. A week later, my sister came to visit, which was a huge boost as I felt like all I was doing those days was trying to feed and console a crying baby. By the end of the week, after another long crying spell, my husband said “I really think you need to feed him a bottle of something and see if he needs more to eat.” Now, he had suggested this before, but I adamantly refused. I always taught that breastfeeding is the BEST way to go…once you start a bottle you’re on a downhill slope…etc, etc, etc. I had all the arguments as to why I would never feed my baby a bottle. But here he was crying, and we were desperate. So, I used some of the formula samples I had on hand, and decided to try it….and the little man ate as if he was starving. He drained the bottle dry in no time, and looked the most happy and content as he had ever looked. I cried. Here I was, thinking I was doing the best thing by pushing nursing, and my baby was starving. And talk about eating all the words you ever said…how could I EVER feed this baby a bottle in public?!?

But I wasn’t ready to give up on nursing…and the next several months held quite the times, as I continued to try to get him to nurse first, and get a bottle last. I tried a nipple shield-that really helped, but I felt like I had so much “equipment” along for nursing that it was no fun to go places. And after awhile I realized that not only dairy would cause his tummy to get upset, but so did wheat. So I kept to a very strict diet, which helped alot. But after dropping my milk supply so much, I never was able to get back enough to feed him 100% breastmilk. So that prompted another journey…researching formula alternatives. With all the additives, corn syurp solids and other things in powdered formula, I did not feel right giving it to my baby, and I was delighted to find the recipe for home-made formula on the Weston Price Foundation website (www.westonaprice.org). We were blessed to live just down the road from an organic, grass-fed dairy, and I began mixing up home-made formula on a daily basis. While it was more work, it was amazing the difference it made…no more constipation, and his stools and spit up were identical to a 100% breast fed baby. And he started gaining weight!

We continued the partial breast-fed, partial supplement feedings until he was about 6 months old, when one day he refused to nurse, and continued to refuse. I bemoaned the lack of bonding that would come from not nursing…and my husband wryly commented that he thought giving the baby a bottle peacefully was more bonding than forcing a screaming, back-arching baby to the breast. 🙂 Good point! Little Matthias continued to grow and develop normally, and once he could crawl around and eat solid food, he no longer had any food allergies. When he was 10 months old, I one day read an article about how lip ties can also affect nursing…and sure enough, he has a very pronounced lip tie. Which finally makes sense to me why he never was able to get a really good latch…his upper lip never was able to flare very well.

In retrospect, I feel like I’ve learned a number of things: first, I won’t quickly give another baby a pacifier. It really is best to let nursing get off to a really good start, even if you’re tire. Next, I wish I would have thought to investigate the tongue tie sooner. I am paying really close attention to the babies I deliver these days, to make sure it looks right! I also wish I would have searched longer and harder for a professional who could have maybe found both his tongue and lip tie and taken care of it right away. I think if it would have been done when he was 3 wks old, we would have had many less problems. I have also learned to never criticize another mom for the way she feeds her baby. Many times you have no idea what she has been through, and what may have brought her to the point that she is at. As mothers, we want to do what is best for our babies, and sometimes it looks different in other situations. I also STRONGLY recommend looking into making your own formula if you need to bottle feed! And lastly, I’m doing some research, and I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I’m really hoping that by possibly taking a different form of folic acid during my next pregnancy, I may be able to help reduce or prevent the significant food sensitivities/stomach issues and tongue ties in the next baby. I haven’t read enough to be able to share it yet…but I’m hopeful that maybe things can be different the next time around!

So, that’s the story…God’s grace was sufficient, though I really thought I was going crazy numerous times during those months. A fussy baby equals little sleep, and I went months without sleeping more than 2 or 3 hrs at a time. But our little fellow is worth it all, and brings us much joy…and I know I’ve learned an extra level of sympathy for those experiencing nursing difficulties and challenges with fussy babies!For more information on tongue ties, check out:http://www.cwgenna.com/ttidentify.htmlhttp://kiddsteeth.com/dental_topics.html#evaluate_and_diagnose_a_posterior_tongue_tie

Matthias around 1 week old

Matthias around 1 week old

5 thoughts on “Fussy Babies, Tongue-Ties and Nursing Challenges

  1. Kelsey, thanks so much for writing about this. I nearly started bawling just reading it as I had a very similar experience with Grayson and I know just how you felt. He had a anterior tongue tie that we got clipped right after his birth so I didn’t think anything more of it. I gave him a pacifier too early and insisted on nursing only and tried everything under the sun to boost my supply. He was barely gaining weight at all! When we started using donor milk it made such a big difference and I cried because I felt so bad for starving him. Even now when I look back on photos of him at that age it brings tears to my eyes because he looks so hungry (at least that’s all I can see when I look at them :-))

    We eventually gave him formula once he was about nine months and I too felt like I had to eat my words! BUT I’m so thankful because even though it wasn’t my ideal way of feeding my baby, the most important thing is that he was healthy and growing.

    Now he’s 13 months and his top front teeth have come in. It’s clear that he also has an upper lip tie. And who knows about the posterior tongue tie. Do you believe it’s important to get these things taken care of even though we are no longer nursing? Do they cause any other negative things as kids get older?

    • Thanks for your comment, Kendra! I can totally identify with feeling sad when looking back on baby pictures…my little guy looks hungry and almost sad. And it’s such a contrast with the happy, fat fellow he is today. I guess motherhood is a journey, but I sure wish I could figure out some things without having to learn on my children! 🙂

  2. I’m sorry for your difficult time . This I oration to moms and midwives is slowly evolving and there is soo much to learn. I have seen so many of these lately and I’m also following closely the folic acid link we may have cut out neuro tube defects but have created a whole other big problem with excessive synthetic supplementation. We have a good option in Wichita for having them lasered. I was told by them that a post tongue tie and lip tie always come together.These are best dealt with by someone with experience.The ant tongue can be easily taken care of by the midwife or dr. Please keep us posted on the folic acid and any other research you come across. The Lord bless you

  3. Pingback: Tips for Boosting Your Milk Supply: Recipes & Supplements – Gentle Delivery Midwifery Services (Centre Co. PA)

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