While I was pregnant with my fourth baby, I remember telling people that, while the newborn days can be tough, I was really looking forward to breastfeeding again.
“I just love nursing,” I sighed, happily.
My love of breastfeeding was hard won. I was hell-bent on breastfeeding my twins, my firstborn babies, and after many months of exclusive pumping and formula supplementing, I was able to transition solely to the breast.
I went on to nurse them for 17 months. When I mentally list my “Greatest Life Accomplishments,” breastfeeding my twins, along with earning my Masters Degree in English, always tops the chart.
I nursed my third son for 21 months and weaned him when I was midway through my fourth pregnancy.
I was a breastfeeding expert. I had read all the books, all the websites, and had all bras, pillows, and lanolin I needed. I had over 3 years experience nursing. I was beyond confident in the future success of my breastfeeding relationship with my new baby.
I gave birth to my beautiful boy, Eli, on December 23, 2014, and he was an eager nurser from the start. In fact, he wanted the breast so often his first day of life that my milk came in 24 hours after birth.
Though his latch was a bit uncomfortable, I didn’t mind nursing often. After all, this is what I was looking forward to. We were doing this together and I knew it would get easier.
But when we went home from the hospital, nursing did not get easier. Each feeding became more difficult and more painful.
I wanted to enjoy these precious newborn days but I found myself holding my breath each time he latched on, willing myself not to cry out with the toe-curling pain of each breastfeeding session.
In between feedings, he was not a happy baby. He screamed and cried, arching his back with gas pains.
I wept too, feeling helpless and lost.
What was going on? Why was this not working? I felt like I had a Breastfeeding diploma from a fake University: It was good for nothing.
I was back at the beginning with my baby; my experiences and the breastfeeding foundation I built with my first three children simply vanished.
As the days wore on, I saw multiple lactation consultants and two pediatricians.
I got tips for new positions, nipple cream, and a clean bill of health for my baby.
It didn’t help. I was bleeding and miserable. At my request, my husband went to the store and bought formula. I cried in defeat and relief as I fed Eli a bottle, just to give me a brief break.
There were times that I wanted to give up breastfeeding, and if I had, I would still have been a good mom to my son.
But before I called it quits. I needed to find out the truth, both for my son and for myself.
I employed all the research techniques and tenacity I learned in grad school and dug deep. I made lists, tracked symptoms, and googled like a mad woman. I joined message boards and compared stories and, then, I found it.
It was all there; all the symptoms fit: My son was tongue-tied.
I knew it, even though the lactation consultants and doctors told me he wasn’t. He had a posterior tongue tie, which meant that his tongue was latched to the bottom of his mouth underneath the skin, preventing a productive latch, causing him to take in air as he ate (creating the terrible gas pains) and causing the excruciating pain for me.
I quickly made an appointment with an Ear Nose and Throat specialist and sure enough, the doctor confirmed my diagnosis: My now one-month-old baby boy had a posterior tongue tie.
The doctor clipped it that day in the office (and intense 2-minute procedure with much crying, but minuscule blood loss) and from that day forward, our breastfeeding relationship drastically improved. He also became a calmer, happier baby in the coming weeks, with less crying and gas pains.
I thought we wouldn’t make it through that first hellish month, but my baby is about to turn 2 and we are coming to the end of our nursing relationship: He is almost weaned.
My breastfeeding journey with my youngest baby has been intense, heartbreaking, and wildly unexpected.
Like those older and wiser mothers always say, “Every baby is different.”
Moving forward, I know my breastfeeding relationship with Eli has taught me to let go of my pride, trust my gut, and to love and parent each of my sons as individuals, addressing their unique and special needs with an open hand and an open heart.