Sunny was born screaming. “Hey baby, hey baby,” I cooed at him. He still screamed, squishy newborn face screwed up, tiny mouth open. I rocked and jiggled him a little. “Baby, baby,” I said. Neither of my other sons had screamed like Sunny. They’d cried when they were born, of course, but they’d stopped quickly. But Sunny was angry and determined to tell the world about it. He had a set of lungs on him, too. After a minute of newborn baby rage, I gave up. “Here,” I said, pinching my nipple in a c-shape. “See if this helps.” He lunged with open mouth and latched, then sucked contentedly. The sudden silence was startling.
Sunny nursed voraciously for over an hour before I handed him to my husband. As I handed him over, I realized my left nipple, the one he’d been breastfeeding on, felt rubbed raw. I chalked it up to newborn latch and not breastfeeding for a few months (my second son weaned and then came back to the breast when his little brother was born). Little did I know that my baby's bad latch was actually a severe tongue tie. At the time, I figured we were both just in need of a bit more practice. I did all that postpartum stuff and then moved to another room, where I laid in bed with Sunny on my chest. He woke occasionally, and I breastfed on demand, first one breast, then the other. My nipples felt tender, so I slathered them with Lanolin. At this point, with each baby, I'd had nipple tenderness, but Lanolin always took care of it.
But when it came to Sunny's latch, I'd need much more than lotion.
We went home at about eight hours postpartum, because I’m friends with my OB and my pediatrician is a hippie. Sunny and I did the same thing at home that we did in the hospital: we sat in bed and he breastfed. My nipples got worse. This had never happened before. When I examined him closely, I noticed his latch was shallow. I kept trying to get him to latch more deeply, but he didn’t seem interested.
At 24 hours postpartum, my nipples were no longer raw. They were bloody and peeling. I needed a lactation consultant, but it was the weekend, so I contented myself with the internet. I did the exercises I found there to get a deeper latch, and in the meantime, put Orajel on my nipples to numb them before breastfeeding. Sunny was proving himself to be a happy baby as long as he had access to my boob — and he had access all the time. But he wasn’t peeing enough. We waited and waited. We counted hours, but he wasn’t peeing, despite how much he was breastfeeding. His latch stayed terrible, and my nipples hurt all the time. Thirty-six hours after his birth, he had peed just enough to keep us from calling the pediatrician. He’d only pooped a little bit of meconium. My gut told me something was wrong. But in the absence of a trained professional, I checked the internet again.
I read somewhere online about lip and tongue ties in babies. According to the Mayo Clinic, a tongue tie is a condition present at birth that affects a baby's feeding ability, as well as their ability to move their tongues. I flipped up Sunny’s lip, and a thick band of tissue joined his inner lip to his gum. And when I tried to lift his tongue out of his mouth, I found that I couldn’t. The internet called this a class-four posterior tongue tie with a classically presenting concomitant lip tie. According to Fauquier Ear Nose & Throat Consultants of Virginia, upper lip tie occurs when the upper lip is attached to the upper gum, and may prevent baby's ability to "curl up" or "flare out" in order to properly seal with the breast for successful breastfeeding. After checking Sunny out, I realized that if I wanted to breastfeed, we needed to get this fixed — and fast.
I found, on the local La Leche League boards, a doctor who lasered lip and tongue ties. And on Saturday morning, I called their emergency help line. To my utter shock, the doctor called back immediately. He didn’t have an appointment, but he told us to come in before office hours on Monday, at 7 a.m., and that he and his assistant would do the procedure. I just had to hang on until then.
I didn’t want my son to have formula, since his two brothers had severe milk/soy protein intolerance and I worried Sunny would've gotten sick on normal formula. Luckily, Sunny and I made it until Monday, when we showed up at the dentist’s office in the gray dawn. The doctor didn’t take insurance for the $550 procedure, and it's a privilege that we had the money to afford the procedure. When we went inside, the nurse held Sunny down while the doctor used a laser to cut the thick band of skin holding his tongue down, and the skin tethering his lip to his gum. There was no anesthesia; the doctor claimed it didn’t hurt. In retrospect, I felt like he was either lying to keep me calm or willfully deceived. Sunny screamed in rage pain during the entire procedure (they claimed because he was held down). Afterwards, I sat in the office with an exhausted baby who finally, finally latched. And when he did, he latched normally.
We had to do some suck exercises afterwards, to keep his latch on track (he had a tendency to slide back into that shallow latch he’d learned). We had the lactation consultant come out, just in case. But all in all, Sunny was doing fine. He’d actually gained a few ounces by the next day. We had to keep stretching his tongue and lip, to keep them from reattaching, which made him scream and made me cry. But we did it anyway. We had to.
Sunny turns 3 today. He’s still breastfeeding. These days, he sits on the floor coloring a Paw Patrol coloring book from his grandparents, his tongue and lip tie all but a memory for both of us. Back in those first few days, I didn’t think we’d be able to breastfeed. I thought our relationship was doomed. But I am so grateful we made it. Even though breastfeeding is sometimes a pain these days, I’m glad I have the chance to do it. There was a time when I almost didn’t. And that makes our breastfeeding relationship all the more precious.