Painful breastfeeding because of a tongue tie.

Before I had my first child, I had expected I’d be a natural when it came to breastfeeding, because my mother was one. She had had four children and breastfed them all. She loved breastfeeding so much, she even became a lactation consultant for a while. 

But there I was, struggling. Anouk was 2.6 kg at birth, so feeding was extra important and anxiety-inducing. She had reflux and never seemed like she was loving the experience of feeding. She was busy and uncomfortable. 

The initial pain of engorged breasts and painful nipples never passed and just became a constant, especially on my right side. Even four months down the line, when she sucked it felt like someone was slicing my nipple off with a bread knife. After feeding, my nipples were white and compressed, and very tender.

I almost gave up breastfeeding, but then I saw a post by Kaitlin Klimmer, a mom I’d been following on Instagram. She’d just had her second child and realised early on that something wasn’t right. Because she’d had a “normal” breastfeeding experience with her first, she had something to compare the experience of breastfeeding her second child to.The reason for the problem turned out to be a tongue tie, a fairly common and easily rectifiable condition where the strip of skin that connects the baby’s tongue to the bottom of their mouth is shorter than usual. 

In the post she mentioned red flags for mom and red flags for babies regarding tongue ties. I’d never even heard of tongue ties before, but when I read her list, I immediately knew this was our problem, too.

For mom:

  • Pain while latched (beyond normal discomfort / tenderness of having started nursing)
  • Compressed nipple after feeding (pointed on one end – like a new lipstick)

For baby:

  • Repeatedly popping / slipping off the nipple while drinking
  • Choking / sputtering mid feed
  • Lip blisters after nursing
  • Baby makes a clicking or popping sound while nursing
  • Milk running out sides of mouth while nursing
  • Milk is pooled in mouth at the end of a feed
  • Not gaining weight as quickly as would be expected

We ticked ALL these boxes.

I sent my GP, Phillip Nel, screenshots of the post, and a week later the situation was resolved. He put a local anaesthetic on the piece of flesh under Anouk’s tongue, and then delicately cut through it. She was uncomfortable with the procedure (who wouldn’t be?) but not in any pain. There were only a few drops of blood and nothing else to worry about.

Things changed almost immediately. In addition to no longer experiencing such extreme piercing pain while breastfeeding, my daughter could feed more easily. And it was adorable watching her discover her tongue, which she could previously barely get past her teeth.

Fortunately, I was able to breastfeed until my baby was a sturdy 11 months old.

General Practitioner: Dr. Philip Nel