“Oh, Wilf.” I must have said this a thousand times during the four and a half weeks that made up January. They were long weeks. In fact, though my calendar told me otherwise, I’m pretty certain Wednesday 31st was, in fact, the 87th of January.
I am not a hater of Januarys, generally. I hate New Year’s resolutions but I combat that by not making any. I hate the cold weather but that’s only because our house is damp and it gets tedious wet-wiping mould off the walls. This year, however, I was pretty fecking glad to see the back of January after I’d spent almost all of it in close proximity to a baby who was either screaming in my ear or head-butting my boob in a state of agitation. January was loud. And a bit sad, if truth be told.
After the loveliest of starts to the third-baby adventure, we soon found ourselves with a baby who could not be settled. At first, we told ourselves that this wasn’t unusual. Our bigger boys had probably been just the same as babies and we’d simply forgotten. However, as James paced the bedroom with an extremely upset Wilf for what must have been the seventh or eighth night in a row, and I sat up in bed falling in and out of sleep, completely off my tits due to the fact that the baby was never off my tits, we conceded that ‘something wasn’t right.’
We’re not new to the baby thing. We had expected to pace around ssshhing a colicky baby in the hour or two before bedtime. We knew that feeding ‘on demand’ meant my boobs would be out more than they would be in. But Wilf was miserable. He spent every waking minute of every day crying and every sleeping minute (which were few and far between) looking like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, occasionally waking from his slumber to cry out as though somebody had dropped something on him from a great height. Though on paper, breastfeeding was going well (he was putting on weight, my nipples were never once sore and comments were made about the ‘perfect latch’), the word I would use to describe the majority of our feeds was fretful. He would feed for a few minutes, get extremely upset and then give up. Worrying that there was a problem with my supply, I tried expressing some milk and found I had enough to feed him ten times over. He was also extremely sick. Puddles of it, over his shoulders, our shoulders and our bedding, so perhaps there was too much milk? I read up online about problems with oversupply and ‘forceful let-downs’, so started pumping milk off at the start of each feed so he wouldn’t be choking on an initial fast flow. That didn’t help either.
Every day we hoped we’d turn a corner and every day he seemed more cross. Having experienced babies with reflux before, I took him to the doctor and we started on good-old Gaviscon to thicken his feeds. It lessened the sick puddles but he was no happier. I took him back to the doctor and we started on ranitidine. I also decided at this point to cut out dairy from my diet, after I’d read lots of stories about extremely unhappy babies who had turned out to have cows’ milk protein intolerance.
Nothing seemed to help. I took to Instagram and Facebook to gather advice. I gathered a lot of advice. If I was cutting out dairy I should probably try cutting out soya, too. We should try a dummy. I should wear him in a sling. We should try cranial osteopathy. I needed to drink fennel tea. We should try this magical hold guaranteed to stop babies crying as demonstrated by a doctor in a viral YouTube video.
I soaked up these suggestions like a sponge and tried them all. Nothing helped. If anything, he was getting more upset. I had stopped wanting to take him out because it always ended in us having to leave or come home. Then one evening, as I Googled ‘My baby is broken’ or similar for the umpteenth time, I stumbled upon a thread about tongue tie and remembered that this had also been mentioned in the social media comments. I had, perhaps mistakenly, dismissed the suggestion that he could have a tongue tie because I knew it had already been checked. And yet the more I read about it the more I became convinced that it was his tongue that was causing us problems. I booked yet another appointment to see the doctor and tried to push to the back of my mind the worry that I was becoming one of those mothers who diagnoses her kids’ ailments via Mumsnet threads.
The third doctor I saw agreed that Wilf’s tongue didn’t look ‘quite right’ and said he would make an appointment for us to see a paediatrician. How long will that take? I asked him, over the sound of Wilf’s crying which I’d become so used to I was starting to wonder if I was going deaf. He couldn’t be sure, he’d send a letter, and I knew in that moment that I wouldn’t be able to wait for the letter. We were at breaking point, all of us. James was glum. Henry and Jude had stopped even trying to interact with their baby brother because all he did was scream at them. And I was sad. Really bloody sad. So, when I got home I emailed a lactation consultant who advertised having a specialist knowledge of tongue tie and I booked an appointment. It was the best thing I did.
It took her five seconds, if that, to confirm that Wilf did indeed have a tongue tie, which, she believed, had meant feeding had been really hard work for him. As a result, he had been giving up before he was full, then demanding another feed an hour later (a pattern we’d been repeating on a loop until he had a permanent stomach ache and I’d lost the will to live). She was able to snip the tie then and there (not nearly as harrowing as it sounds) but advised it might take a couple of weeks for his tongue to build up enough strength to feed efficiently.
Unfortunately, just the thought of having two more torturous, crying-filled weeks stretching out in front of us was too much for me to even contemplate. Even one more week seemed unbearable. So, on Thursday morning, after three further days with an extremely unhappy baby and a genuine worry that I was making myself unwell, I woke James up and told him that he needed to go out and get some formula. After almost eight weeks of stressful feeds, the tongue tie diagnosis had sadly come too late and I was no longer feeling positive about breastfeeding. I would express a few more bottles but I was done.
It’s a funny old thing, breastfeeding. I was almost too scared to admit here that I’d ‘given up’ because although I have written extensively about the importance of not beating ourselves up and of doing what is best for the whole family, I have also been on the receiving end of stick about my feeding choices in the past. It’s almost not worth the hassle of being honest. But only almost. Because the most remarkable thing has happened since my near-breakdown on Thursday and I want to shout about it from the rooftops …
Wilf has started smiling! And sleeping. And enjoying his feeds. We've been out for walks where he hasn't screamed, Last night, I even watched Coronation Street and when you've spent a month or so at the end of your tether feeling completely helpless, the normality of sitting down for thirty minutes of telly feels like heaven (even more so because I made up for the lost two weeks' dairy by inhaling some chocolate). He still has reflux but it's only causing us a headache in terms of washing. I can cope with washing. We're only a couple of days into February, I know, but we have turned the corner I’m sure of it.
Anyway, I wanted to write this update blog post mainly so I could say a massive THANK YOU to each and every person who took the time to message me with support and suggestions. It was down to you that a seed of doubt was planted about whether his tongue had been assessed thoroughly and ultimately gave me the kick up the arse to seek help and finally get to the bottom of what has been making him so unhappy. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have got my joyful baby boy back.