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Two Tongued Baby

by Anne Stocker Goorhuis, Malone, New York

Jonathan, my first born, was born with a growth on his tongue, long, narrow, and free moving. It was pale, pink, attached in the rear portion of the tongue and laid on top.

Seven doctors saw him while we were in the hospital, recuperating from the caesarean birth (a homebirth gone awry). A specialist was sure my son didn’t have a thyroid gland where it was supposed to be. That would have meant a lifetime of medication. The emotional stakes were high; my Perfect Baby had a major birth defect. The specialist was wrong.

Luckily, I was one determined mama. My birth dream torn from me, I wasn’t going to let anything rob me of my plan to breastfeed. Hospital personnel helpfully put a no pacifier, no bottle sign on his bassinet right in the operating room. I didn’t trust them; baby roomed in with me, and my mom, a nurse, was with me to tend to him.

Breastfeeding came hard. Jonathan latched on better on my left breast than on my right; maybe because the growth slid between his gums more easily on that side. I tried many trick to get him to latch on, including a rubber breast shield on the right side only, as well as “priming” the baby with a few sucks of sugar water from a mini bottle. Went home with these crutches in fact.

Things went from bad to worse. Jonathan screamed in hunger upon awakening and yet would not latch on. I was desperate. Henk, my husband, thought the baby was wasting away (he was 9 lb. 8 oz. at birth and threatened to go out and buy formula for him if I didn’t “get this breastfeeding thing figured out in 24 hours.” I actually called my best girlfriend and wondered aloud if Henk shouldn’t stay in a hotel for a week or so until the transition was made. I was going to breastfeed my baby, come hell or high water.

I had gone to two La Leche League meetings before giving birth and met the kind-hearted leader. Visualizing her kindly face made it easier to break down and call her (why are we so hesitant to admit we need help?). Her threefold advice had the problem corrected in 48 hours (Henk didn’t have to go to a hotel).

1. Pump a little so you have a soft breast for Babe to latch onto (my milk had just come in).

2. Throw away all crutches (baby needs to learn the signal to nurse is the soft skin of the breast, not the rubbery, artificial feel of the shield).

3. Wake the baby up a little sooner than he wants and put him to the breast immediately (baby’s immature nervous system only recognizes hunger when it is full blown and by then he is too worked up to latch on. When he’s drowsy and peaceful he’ll latch on more easily).

But I haven’t told you about the growth. It was a benign developmental fluke, the size of my index finger at surgical removal at four months of age. The surgery was another hurdle in our story since the stitches were on his tongue and made it painful to breastfeed. He wouldn’t nurse at all for the first twelve hours and even then it was suck, suck, cry; suck, suck, cry; suck, suck, cry. This discomfort went on for two whole weeks (the first week was the worst). I am certain he would have gone over to the bottle at that time, had I offered it to him. I didn’t even think of it; so confident was I that breastfeeding was in his long-term best interest; even if short-term the bottle could have kept him out of pain.

We learned a lot of techniques for increasing milk flow, because unbeknownst to me my milk supply had dwindled the last month or two before the surgery. The reason? As Jonathan grew, so did the tumor on his tongue. This made his suck less and less efficient. He was spending an hour on the breast each feeding, and still acting hungry. His weight stayed the same for two months (head circumference and length continued) and the week before surgery he lost six ounces. From birth to four months he went from 95th to 25th percentile on the weight charts.

Once again, I was concerned. But we built up my milk supply and his weight after the surgery with the help of some tricks. Nancy, the La Leche League leader, helped here again.

1. Breastfeed frequently, on demand (naturally!) and at night. Breastfeed twice as frequently on each breast (i.e. in a twenty minute feeding it would be five minutes left, five right, five left, five right; instead of ten minutes each side). After Babe has his fill, take a hand pump and pump a minute or two more, then give this to him via a syringe to the side of his mouth. Breast milk increases on demand.

At four and a half months I also started giving him rice cereal mixed with breastmilk. Fruits and veggies came at six months. He went back up on the weight chart to 35th percentile, where he remained through his first year. Heredity had to catch up with him sometime.

Such are the humble beginnings of our long and luscious breastfeeding relationship. Jonathan nursed three-and-a-half years. I nursed him through my second pregnancy (a VBAC) birth) as well as tandem nursed for four or five months. His weaning was so gentle and slow a process I can’t say for sure when he weaned.

We threw an independence party for him in the part with his little friends and their breastfeeding moms in attendance, (all of whom breastfed for more than a year, but none so long as Jonathan). For reaching this milestone, he got the Batman costume he wanted. he just turned four and his baby brother one. There exists much more harmony and affection between them than does jealousy and competition.

Determination and perseverance are just as important in breastfeeding as in giving birth. Having a support system is just as important; seeing other mothers breastfeed their eighteen month old toddlers helped me mentally take the step to choose to continue to nurse.

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