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Second chances at breastfeeding: healing from the trauma

By the time my son was born in 2013 I was pretty fed up of unsolicited advice. For every one “congratulations” there were fifty dire comments about sleep and crying and poo. People “warned” me that my life was over, that I’d never have fun again, that boys were bad, that my body would be destroyed, all things that did not come true! But not a single person “warned” me that breastfeeding might be anything but easy, beautiful, and natural. Imagine my shock when that was the biggest problem I had.

When he was first born there were complications and I needed urgent medical attention; this meant I couldn’t hold him for nearly an hour after birth. When I did and attempted the first feed he bit me so hard he broke the skin and I was bleeding. Things went from bad to worse as I had no support in hospital and none of the midwives, paediatricians, or even the very few LCs available would believe me that there was a serious problem. They gave me formula, told me not to be selfish or starve my baby, and left.

Between a complicated instrumental birth that probably mashed his head a bit, a post partum haemorrhage of 1L that affected my supply and strength, and no professional support it was an very difficult time. I was a first time mother, scared of depriving my newborn, and I went with it. I had heard of tongue tie but didn’t know much, and with every health care provider telling me that I was crazy, lazy, or just weak I got shut down at every turn. I went to tongue tie clinics, tried to consult with IBCLCs; I tried everything. Nobody would listen. Thanks to support on Mumsnet I was motivated to press on and keep trying. Eventually I found a paediatric dentist who confirmed that I was not crazy, lazy, or wimpy in any way and did the revision. I cried with relief. Mine was one of those few babies who was immediately helped with a revision and it was completely and totally cured within moments of it being done, though I still had virtually no supply. I worked round the clock to restore and regulate my supply and starting at almost 3 months I managed to exclusively breastfeed my son until he was nearly one.

When I got pregnant with my second child I was so scarred by the two elements that had made it all very traumatic the first time: the birth and the breastfeeding. I tried to stay positive about the possibilities for the birth because statistics are so much better for second births. But n any case, the birth was one day (or two if you have labours like I do!) and breastfeeding struggles were three months of pain and dismissal.

I wanted to try again though. I told myself that I’m not in control of whether or not the baby has a tongue tie but now I know what it is, how to get it treated, who to talk to, and how to get through until the tie can be revised.

When my second baby was born, the birth was simple and complication-free, thank goodness. And at first I thought the breastfeeding would be too! But right away the midwife and I spotted a big anterior tongue tie and over the first day each feed got worse and worse. Babies can have ties without feeding issues but it was all there: the pain, clicking sounds, gasping, blocked ducts, nursing every 30 minutes because the latch is poor. I was offered to have it repaired on the NHS but having been through the mill before and totally scarred from it I decided to use the same private doctor we’d used last time.

I contacted his office, made an appointment, and her tie was revised the day she turned 1 week old. To get through that week, which felt like an eternity, I expressed and syringe/cup/spoon fed her drop by drop. Unlike with my first baby, things improved a lot right away but not completely. Recovery was painful for her and the feeding improvement was slow and steady. She’s now three months old and is still exclusively breastfed without issue. Some of her tie has regrown. It doesn’t seem to be much of an issue but I’m monitoring it.

In parenting groups I’ve known many other women who’ve had the same experience – whether due to tongue tie or other issues – who decided to not try to breastfeed their second because they don’t want to go through that hell again, and who couldn’t sympathise? They’re worried about pain, depression, isolation, depriving the baby, and often people say that they want both babies to have the same, meaning they won’t breastfeed one and not the other.

But I want to tell you: knowledge is power. If you fed your first baby formula, that’s okay. It’s not the optimal way but a lot of what we do isn’t optimal and it will all be fine. You can have a second chance and you can do it. Your second child may not have a tongue tie, or may have other issues, or may have a worse tie, which is what I experienced. You know who to talk to now, you can get support from other mums online, you won’t have to struggle like this. If you don’t know who to talk to, start now to prepare yourself. If you didn’t formula feed and instead nursed through the pain, you’ll be able to cut that short by being able to take action. And knowledge among medical professionals about tongue tie has improved dramatically and you might find a different response even within the same hospital. I was so scarred and toughened by my first experience and I will always carry that with me, but this second time has been healing even though it wasn’t smooth sailing.

You’ve got this. The first time was so hard but you can move past it and have a positive second chance, even if that involves another struggle. The struggle won’t be so bad second time around.

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