I don’t remember exactly how it all started or even when, but it was a difficult time. Tiny Banana and I had an excellent beginning in our breastfeeding relationship without any complications; in fact, he nursed the entire 25-minute ride to the hospital from our home where he was born (a miraculous story for another day). TB was a strong eater and from the beginning demanded to eat far more frequently than either of his brothers ever did, but that was fine with me. Somewhere around the time TB was 7 or 8 months, however, I noticed that things started to change and I was having trouble keeping up my milk supply.
Fast forward a bit to when my sweet banana was 9 months old. I can very distinctly recall one day sitting with him on the couch in our living room while he tried to nurse. He latched on and suckled for a few minutes as I waited for my milk to “let down”. Instead he pulled off and would pinch and pull at my breast in frustration as if he was trying to dig out the milk with his hands. My stomach dropped and my blood pressure went up. Where was my milk?
As this wasn’t the first time I’d noticed an unexplainable dip in my supply, I started a previously used routine of ingesting fennel and basil essential oils from Young Living every few hours. (Historically used to help support healthy milk supply) I also picked up a bottle of celery seed oil from my very generous friend since it seemed it might be a better help. Meanwhile I was doing more research and applying every oil I had in my possession to help reduce my stress level. TB was getting many of his nutrients from eating solids, but he still very much wanted to nurse.
I wish I could explain in words the agony I felt in my heart. I felt like a failure to my son who was depending upon me not only for nourishment but also for comfort. Breastfeeding is not just about a source of food (but again, that’s a topic for a different day). You see, I want to be a lactation consultant when I grow up, and as I sat there questioning whether I’d have to give my wee boy formula until he turned one, my heart was so conflicted. I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t refuse him the nutrition he needed either. Determination to succeed doesn’t begin to describe the drive that was in my being. Prayer, oil supplementation, frequent pumping, more prayers begging God for His favor and grace. I did whatever I could to coax the milk from my breasts, but I still felt like a terrible mother and wanted desperately to understand why I was experiencing this trial when my first two sons nursed with absolutely no problems at all.
With Tiny Banana nursing had become a chore in those recent months. It was painful. I went from being able to nurse wherever I was sitting/standing to being required to nurse him while lying flat on the floor in order to relieve some of the pain. Whereas nursing was once a wonderful time for me to sit down and force myself to take 10-15 minutes to relax and refocus as I bonded with my son, it was now a time that I dreaded, and I hated that I felt that way. Ever since TB’s top two teeth came in (before his bottom two teeth, I might add), it was as if he had to suck harder in order to keep the suction tighter. I say this in retrospect, of course, now that I know what the problem was.
Shortly before that particular day on my couch, my incredibly delightful IBCLC friend Jenn Majors posted an article on her Modern Mama Lactation Consulting Facebook page, so I quickly researched the topic further and examined multiple photos of other babies I KNEW this must be it: Tiny Banana had an upper-lip tie, and that was directly related to the pain and especially to my lack of milk supply. Since Jenn has extensive personal experience and professional training in this topic, I asked her to look at TB. Sure enough, he had not only an upper-lip tie but she said he also a posterior tongue tie. Oy.
Within days of Tiny Banana’s diagnosis, I had scheduled a frenectomy with a pediatric dentist in Apex. By God’s magnificently wonderful grace and compassion toward us, we were able to scramble together enough money for the procedure since it wasn’t covered by insurance. The procedure lasted less than 2 minutes from start to finish, and he was latched on and nursing immediately afterward. Oh, my heart! My sweet little Tiny Banana was nursing like a champ again. It took my body a few days to figure out what was going on and why there seemed to be a jump in demand of milk because some of the glands had previously never been stimulated to produce milk!
Why, oh why am I writing about this? Because it was one of the most painful trials I have yet endured as a parent. There are harder things to experience, I know, but as of today it’s the worst time I have had. I spent a lot of time beating myself up when I had trouble nursing. I spent hours praying and crying and even talking to other moms trying to understand what was happening. Now, I have to put this out there even though I know it will bother some moms. It was tough finding support and encouragement as I fought to feed my baby, and it seemed to bewilder many of the moms I talked to why I didn’t just give up and give TB formula. Because I wanted to know Why. I knew there had to be a root to the issue, and I wanted to figure it out, not just for me but for other moms who undoubtedly have had or will have the same issue. And you know what? God be praised for giving me the will to persevere; at least half a dozen moms have told me since this whole thing happened that they wish they had found out sooner that their child had a tongue/lip-tie, that not finding out soon enough took away time and experience they wanted in the nursing relationship. Those same moms also told me that they wish they’d had more support. I’m not alone. You’re not alone.
I’m convinced I didn’t go through this just for my own personal growth, though I for sure did some growing in my faith in Christ and understanding of breastfeeding. It gave me a greater drive for serving other moms who wish to nurse. Our western culture has made it so “weird” for moms to breastfeed at all, let alone past 6 months, one year, or even two years of age! The breastfeeding community (and I can’t say that there aren’t some serious fanatics that are in your face about their enthusiasm) is trying to normalize breastfeeding, and I appreciate it. One day it won’t be such a hot topic to discuss…I hope. In all honesty, I hated the experience. It was painful to my body and to my heart. It was emotionally draining and ridiculously stressful. I questioned my worth as a parent. But here are the great things: Tiny Banana is now 20 months old and still nursing because I can still produce milk for him, and not even a month after TB’s procedure, I had other moms talking to me about their situations only to discover their kiddos also had a tongue/lip-tie. When they had success I was elated to the core of my being. I LOVE helping other mommas with their babies, and I can’t wait to be an IBCLC…one day. Until then, if you need an advocate, I’m here to listen and help however I can.