Iselin’s Story

Our second son was born at home in a birthpool in calm and peaceful surroundings. He was strong and healthy and took to the breast immediately. It was love at first sight and our little baby suckled away for the first 24 hours. And then, from exhaustion or bliss or both, he fell fast asleep. While our precious little baby slept, my breasts started filling with milk – and as the hours went on – they started to engorge.

After a day, I was running a fever and my breasts became blotchy and felt like they were on fire. I knew I had to empty them of milk, but my well-intentioned mother-in-law advised against expressing as that would (over time) make me produce more milk. So I waited till the baby finally woke and I breastfed him. Unfortunately for me, it gave little relief – waiting had made it worse. As they days went on, I worked through the pain first using my birth breathing exercises and when that did not give enough relief I breastfed with curled toes and finally through tears of agony. As anyone who has had mastitis will know, the pain is excruciating; like tiny, hot razors cutting through your breasts. And the fever – it was the worst I had ever had –made the breast pain all the more intense. After doing some online research, I self-diagnosed mastitis and over the next few days I drank herbal teas, used hot and cold massage and over-the-counter pain relief – I even tried natural remedies to get better. But each day the fever climbed to a high of 40C, breaking in the late evening, only to climb back up again the next day. On the fourth day, I finally called my GP who prescribed antibiotics, which I had as a fall back for the weekend if I my situation did not improve.

Luckily, it did. After 5 days of misery, I was finally fever free and my breasts were no longer red and burning. What I was left with however, was no better: I had serious nipple trauma and deep seated breast pain. The burning and redness would also come back after the slightest delay in breastfeeding. I did some further online research to look for possible underlying causes, but after all this felt a self-diagnosis was a bit risky. So, I went back to see my GP, who said that the breast trauma would heal and things would improve on their own.

The week after, I went through my symptoms with my health visitor (HV). Alongside the usual checks, her HV trainee that was with her specialised in tongue-tie and offed to check baby. She did and confirmed that there was no tongue-tie. Before they left the HV confirmed what the GP had said: it would heal and the pain would ease with time.

But I knew something was wrong. The pain was not markedly improving and I knew what this was SUPPOSED to feel like. After all I had nursed my first son with no trouble for all of 8.5 months. Even though my nipples were sore and bleeding and I was very uncomfortable neither my GP nor my HV thought there was anything out of the ordinary since baby was gaining weight.

That evening I started trawling through more forums and websites on the topic. After several hours, I found a couple of mums recommending a lactation consultant, Katherine Fisher who had helped them overcome their breastfeeding issues, so I decided to get in touch. A few hours later she called and I walked her through my symptoms. Katherine talked me through how to check for tongue-tie and I did as instructed – there was indeed a string of tissue under his tongue. I made an appointment to see her a few days later.

When I came in to see Katherine, she took one look at my nipples, baby’s tongue and body and confirmed that we both had severe fungal infections. And not only was our son tongue-tied, he had both an anterior and a posterior tie, which gave him close to no mobility of his tongue – making breastfeeding more like gnashing. No wonder I was still in so much pain!

She suggested some anti-fungal treatments (for baby and me), special healing bandages, and information about getting baby’s tongue released. Since he was still so little (3 weeks), we felt it best to get a frenulotomy. A few days later we were back and Katherine made a small cut and baby’s tongue was released.

With excellent follow-up and care, and two trips to the GP to get additional prescriptions for what had become stubborn yeast infections, we made progress and the pain became soreness and then gradually subsided. Katherine saw us 3 times after the procedure and made sure we did the after-care message of the wound and checked that the tongue-tie was not recurring and it healing as it should. The message, which caused the baby some discomfort, seemed somewhat redundant, but I am glad we persisted – the reward was a nicely healed frenulum, a healthy breastfeeding baby, and a healthy, happy mummy.

The lesson here is that if you feel that something is not right, trust your instincts and get specialist help. All my other caregivers were well-intentioned, but my resolve to find the cause instead of simply treating the symptoms meant that rather than painful and dreaded, breastfeeding is now a time for bonding and closeness, a time that we both really enjoy.

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