Fin was born in the pool in the early hours of the morning, it was a wonderful birth experience. I wanted to breastfeed him straight away but he was reluctant to latch on – I was reassured this was normal. By the evening he still hadn’t had any milk and I began to worry. A healthcare assistant showed me how to hand express and sucked up about 1ml of the precious drops of colostrum and syringe fed Fin whilst he sucked on her finger. I used a mechanical pump to express and syringe fed him every 2 hours through the night. The midwives helped me to try different feeding positions – finally I got him latched on, it was uncomfortable but I was expecting that.
A friend’s advice to me had been ‘if it hurts take them off and start again’. I heeded this for a while but in the end it was sore all the time – I was overwhelmed by wanting to feed my baby. The soreness gave way to agony and by day 10 I was crying through every feed and feeling a deep guilt at the dread I felt every time Fin was hungry. The tiny cracks in my nipples had become gaping holes and I had mastitis from wearing breast shells. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t do something as natural as breastfeeding and I thought I must be the only person this had ever happened to.
In the end I made desperate call to Sarah. She came to see us at home, did a complete assessment – and discovered that Fin was tongue-tied. She explained that the tongue-tie might be stopping him from latching on properly and that in the first instance we should try conservative measures. Sarah also gave us lots of advice and support so that I could express my breastmilk and feed Fin in a variety of ways (syringe, bottle, tube) – so my damaged nipples could have a rest.
After we had exhausted all the positioning and latching tips without success we asked Sarah to divide Fin’s tongue-tie – he was 17 days old.
Sarah made sure both my husband and I understood the procedure and that we had read the NICE guidance. She explained that some babies show an instant improvement after the tongue-tie is cut but others take time to learn how to use their newly freed tongue. We swaddled Fin and I just had to hold his head and shoulders so he couldn’t move. He cried because he didn’t like being restricted. Sarah cut under his tongue with a pair of sterile scissors – it literally took a second. There were a few drops of blood and I put him straight to the breast – he was immediately content and I don’t believe he was ever in any pain.
I remember desperately wishing it would work straight away, sadly it wasn’t to be for us. Fin needed time to learn how to use his new found tongue and I continued to express for most of his feeds but tried to put him to the breast at least twice a day. This was a difficult time because it coincided with my husband returning to work. At times it felt absurd sitting expressing with my baby looking right at me. It took the whole day to express, sterilise the kit, feed and look after Fin and I continued to feel very frustrated that it was still so painful.
It was at that time that I really valued the support of the Ely Breastfeeding Group. Many of the ladies there had a difficult story to tell about their breastfeeding – most involved a struggle that they had won through and I took great strength from knowing that they had made it and so I might too. I remember meeting a lady who told me she had had to express for 4 months before her baby would latch – I just kept 4 months in my mind and thought if she can do it, so can I.
Then one day it just felt a little more comfortable when he was on the breast – and the next day better and then I began to notice that I was continuing to heal despite feeding him from the breast 3 times a day. I would get ahead of myself and decide not to express at all, only to be bitterly disappointed when he seemed to have a ‘bad’ feed – it was always worse at night. Nevertheless, slowly but surely we got there and when Fin was 5 weeks old we went away for the weekend to a wedding and didn’t take the breast pump. He fed all weekend from the breast. I remember a few ‘worse for wear’ people staring at me feeding him at the reception – all I could think was how delighted I was that we were finally able to even consider breastfeeding in public.
Sometimes I look down at Fin glugging away and can’t believe that we did it, seemingly against the odds. It was definitely worth it.