Six months. 180 days. 4,320 hours. That was my goal, you see, when it came to breastfeeding my son.
The reality? I exclusively breastfed my son for 10 whole days.
So, what the heck happened? Well, a lot of things, it turns out. A cascading sequence of events took place, which ultimately resulted in my son being exclusively formula fed from about 11 weeks on.
The back story:
My son took his first bottle on Day 11 while the on-call ob/gyn in the ER scraped and vacuumed out my uterus, thanks to a rare joy ride known as secondary postpartum hemorrhage (super fun, by the way).
And you know what? He took to the bottle really well. Surprisingly well. In fact, he took it so darn well that my husband and mom started offering him bottles on occasion in order to let me catch up on some desperately needed sleep, as I was finding myself (as so many women do) teetering at the edge of that dark, scary quarry known as postpartum depression.
The more bottles he took, the more I realized that bottle feeding him was much, much easier than breastfeeding him. During and after bottle feedings, he was happy, calm, satisfied. This was not the case during breastfeeding. He often would take forever to latch, and when he finally did, it was often a shallow latch with his upper lip curled in. I’d try to flip it out as much as I could, but the darn thing would flip back in all the time. He also screamed at the breast, choked at the breast, and often gave up midway through, preferring to just arch his back and scream bloody murder. His belly also bulged with discomfort—presumably from tons of trapped gas. And my breasts took a beating, too: I had cracked, sore nipples that left me wincing in pain whenever he’d latch on. In all honesty, breastfeeding was completely and utterly stressful. I felt like my breasts were failing him. How could he be so miserable at the breast, but so happy with a bottle?
What I should have done is called a lactation consultant. Gone to a breastfeeding support group. Did a little more research. Instead, I saw the on-call pediatrician at my doctors office. She quickly diagnosed him with reflux and prescribed him meds. I didn’t want to put my baby on meds at just three weeks old, so I didn’t. Instead, I started to exclusively pump, and supplement with formula.
As it turns out, it’s really hard to maintain your milk supply when exclusively pumping. It’s also extremely hard to live your life (and care for your fussy newborn) when you feel like a constant prisoner to a machine, counting the minutes (and hours) while your utters deflate.
So, as my milk supply dwindled, so did my motivation to keep pumping. My pumping sessions decreased, my milk supply decreased even more, and thus began a downward spiral that ended with me pumping my last session by the end of Week 10. When I turned the machine off that day, I bawled. I felt like a failure. I cursed my breasts and whatever it was about them that had caused my son so much gas, colic, and pain in those early weeks. Overactive letdown? Oversupply? I didn’t know, and I’d never find out.
That is, I thought I would never find out.
This week—over a year after giving up on breastfeeding and pumping—I may have finally found an answer to our breastfeeding battles: upper lip tie.
Upon taking him to his first dental visit this week, the dentist diagnosed him with a fairly significant upper labial lip tie. As it turns out, my toddler’s adorable gap-goothed smile is a result of an overly thick/tight “maxillary labial frenum” (the muscle that attaches your upper lip to your gums). For most people, the upper labial frenum attaches high on the gum line, above the front teeth. But for my little man, this muscle attaches all the way down his gums, forcing his two front teeth to be separated.
After returning home from the dentist, I did what any mom would do: Google the sh*t out of this “upper lip tie” thing. And you know what? I quickly found tons of data—both scientific and anecdotal—showing a correlation between upper lip ties and a slew of breastfeeding issues. Apparently the lip tie can make it very difficult for the baby to keep their lip flanged out during breastfeeding, resulting in a very narrow latch. This improper latch can cause them to swallow tons of air (leading to painful gas), choke at the breast, and unlatch before being full (leading to frequent nursing sessions). Here is an excellent article by Dr. Kotlow from the Journal of Human Lactation outlining the diagnostic criteria and breastfeeding issues it can cause.
The more I read, the more I felt this huge weight lifting off of me. Finally, a possible answer to all the breastfeeding issues we had early on. Had he been diagnosed earlier, we might have been able to surgically revise his lip tie, which could have drastically improved our breastfeeding relationship.
Now, I can’t say that his upper lip tie is the sole reason for our breastfeeding issues. However, I do now believe it played a significant role.
Unfortunately, from my research, it appears that upper lip ties are highly under-diagnosed, and often get misdiagnosed as colic or reflux. Some doctors/dentists/nurses are urging postpartum professionals to “flip the lip” and check for a lip tie very early on, in order to get an early diagnosis and treatment.
So, after months of cursing my breasts for failing to nourish my son, it turns out they may have not been the bad guys after all. Sorry, boobs. I hope you can forgive me. And I hope my son can forgive me for giving up on breastfeeding so early. Somehow, I think he already has. His happy, giggly demeanor somehow tells me that it’s okay. He’s okay. And now, a year later, I’m feel like I’m finally okay, too.