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How We Lost Our Communal Wisdom About Breastfeeding

Affiliate Disclosure | in Motherhood | by | with 73 Comments

Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.

~ Dr. Benjamin Spock

I don’t know about you, but I think this quote is a tad more compelling than a 1950’s era Similac Ash tray touting the disease preventing capabilities of formula. But maybe you had to be there.

Indeed, if you were you’d know that the Golden Age considered breastfeeding a vulgar act for those poor “disadvantaged people.” Something that mothers told their daughters is “just not done, dear” . . . or worse, something that could be harmful!

“[Mothers] should be told that the child will not be deprived, that in fact, artificial feeding is better for the infant . . . Considering the hazards [of breastfeeding], it might be well that no mother nursed her child.”

~ Dr. Rheingold, The Fear of Being a Woman (1964)

Given the fact that hospital policies routinely insisted on long separations between mother and baby at night – a practice which decreases milk supply – it probably doesn’t surprise you that breastfeeding rates in 1956 were around twenty percent. (source)

Yeah, me neither. 

This is not meant to criticize or lay blame. The women of the 50s, 60s and 70s were mislead to on so many fronts. In fact, OUR “experts” now say THEIR “experts” triggered the obesity epidemic by advising women that it was perfectly safe to smoke during pregnancy, perfectly healthy to try to “keep one’s figure” while growing a child in one’s belly, and nutritionally superior to formula feed. (source) I’d say there’s probably more to it than that, but it sure didn’t help!

You Know Who Else It Didn’t Help? YOU.

And your sister. And your best friend. Plus anyone else you know and love who might get all gooey-eyed and make babies someday. This affected all of us, but not in the way you might think. I’m not talking about the general societal horror of breastfeeding (though there is that), I’m talking about tangible suffering: Guilt over “not making enough milk,” frustration with our “high needs” and/or colicky children, adrenal burnout and more.

In many cases the reason for these conditions could be easily corrected, but isn’t. Why? Because in just one generation we lost our communal wisdom about how to breastfeed and what to do when problems arise.

“What problems?” some say. “Women were made to breastfeed!”

Lately there have been some conversations in which the Weston A. Price Foundation was accused of being “anti-breastfeeding.” While it’s true that they passionately advocate their homemade formula over industrial versions (which often contain hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and even traces of a chemical found in rocket fuel) – most people don’t seem to find this to be problematic. The sensitivity seems to lie in what is perceived as a bias against our faith in ourselves and our bodies. My hope in writing this series it to affirm that:

  • Throughout history, there have ALWAYS been women who were unable to breastfeed. Under those circumstances other mothers (wet nurses) stepped in and literally saved lives.
  • Many women today have breastfeeding difficulties that could be resolved by recovering one simple piece of wisdom. We should do everything we can to bring awareness to this fact and support mamas that desperately want to breastfeed.

My Story

Micah was nearly five months old when I washed all his new clothes – tags and hangers still on. Sounds like normal “life with a newborn” stuff, eh? Burned dinners and forgotten laundry and all that.

I thought so until the night I nearly let his little frame crash to the floor during a bleary-eyed 4am feeding. The next morning I sent out an email for help, and a couple days later Mellanie of For Babies Sake knocked on my door. Three seconds into his exam she announced the problem.

“He’s definitely tongue-tied.”

He’s definitely what!?!? I had already nursed a child for three years by this point, so I hope you’ll excuse my disbelief in realizing that I hadn’t noticed my son’s tongue was tied to the floor of his mouth. She was right, though, and somewhere inside I knew it. Unlike most babies, Micah woke more often to nurse as he grew older – by five months it was every 1-2 hours around the clock. His tongue-tie prevented him from fully draining my breast at a feeding, so as his nutritional needs grew he compensated by nursing more often. (He turned out to be lip-tied, too, which made the problem even worse)

Why Am I Telling You This?

Your story is most likely very different, but if you have ever had problems with low-milk supply, colic, reflux or painful nursing, read on. What our great-grandmothers knew – and what I discovered the hard way – is that tongue and lip ties are common and every child should be checked at birth.

If you’re how we lost the wisdom of our great-grandmothers, it’s simple. Synthetic nipples are easier than breasts for tongue-tied babies to manage, so with the rise of bottle-feeding tongue-tie issues virtually disappeared. Now that breastfeeding is back, we need to reinfuse our culture with awareness about these condition to prevent doctors and parents from miscategorizing common tie-related complications (such as the ones below) under other diagnoses.

  • Low milk supply (depending on the severity of the tie a baby may not be able to stimulate milk production through vigorous nursing)
  • Painful nursing
  • Early weaning because child gets frustrated at the breast
  • Tooth Decay – Improper tongue mobility may prevent babies from clearing milk from their mouth, causing decay (especially on the top front teeth)
  • Colic, gassiness (inability to maintain suction at the breast means baby swallows a lot of extra air)
  • Reflux
  • Sleep apnea
  • Abnormal sleep patterns (waking often to feed because they are unable to fully drain the breast and therefore always hungry)
  • Speech difficulties
  • Gap between teeth/jaw issues – tight tissues can prevent normal development

Am I saying that every instance of one of these diagnoses is tongue-tie related. Definitely not. There are legitimate circumstances in which something else is the cause, but ties are easy to check for so why not rule them out?

Think Your Baby May Have a Tongue or Lip Tied?

Breastfeeding is the best diagnostic tool for assessing lip and tongue ties. If something doesn’t feel right to you, chances are it isn’t. Here’s what to look for:

Baby’s Symptoms

(Micah had all of these except poor weight gain. We never tried a paci or bottle)

  • Difficulty latching on or falls off the breast easily
  • Gumming our chewing the nipple while nursing
  • Unable to hold a paci or bottle
  • Gassy
  • Poor weight gain
  • Excessive drooling
  • Baby is not able to fully drain breast

Mama’s Symptoms

(I had none of these except discomfort)

  • Creased/flat/blanched nipple after feedings
  • Cracked/blistered/bleeding nipples
  • Discomfort while nursing
  • Plugged ducts
  • Thrush/mastitis

If the majority of these symptoms apply to you and/or your baby, chances are very likely that your little one is tongue or lip tied.  If only a few apply there could still be an issue. Want to know for sure? Tomorrow I’ll show you how to make an at-home diagnosis, get a consult with the leading expert in the U.S. for FREE, and seek out treatment options.

You never know who might be struggling privately with one of these issues – why not help get the word out and share this post?

Read Part 2: A Step-By-Step Guid To Identifying Tongue & Lip Ties

Photo credits:  Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division: Gottscho-Schleisner Collection (Library of Congress), [reproduction number, LC-G613-T-57610 ] Photographer: Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., photographer. Make It Old, Subactive Photo
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73 Responses to How We Lost Our Communal Wisdom About Breastfeeding

  1. Janelle Hoxie via FB says:

    Thank-you thank-you thank-you for writing this! I believe both my sons are tied, first one I had all kinds of problems with, he would round the clock every hour or every two hours for probably the first entire year and then some, I always thought I have oversupply because he would spit up a lot and I could spray across the room! but in the beginning he had poor latch and caused bleeding nipples, that got better fast, but I got a plugged duct from engorgement and that led to a breast abscess I had to have surgically drained. I stuck with it though! well… he’s 3.5 and still nursing.. but now I’m trying to make things better for my 5 wk old’s reflux by doing an elimination diet and so far its not working, yea its only been a few days, but I thought I’d see a reduction of something by now! But then I read your blog post… looked at his top lip and things all started making sense! I am going to get this solved ASAP!!!!!!!! Looks like it may have been his latch, and I’m feeling really dumb for not seeing it sooner.

  2. Sarah Trease via FB says:

    Went through hell for over a year. Searched & searched for help, now I know it was lip tie! Wow.

  3. Mommypotamus via FB says:

    Janelle Hoxie – Please let me know if you are able to find someone to do the tie revision and how it helps! Have you contacted Dr. Kotlow to see if he can refer you to someone?

  4. Mommypotamus via FB says:

    Sarah Trease – I felt exactly the same way! It wasn’t too bad with my daughter, but I have very few memories of the first two years of her life because of how the frequent feedings early on hardwired her to wake every two hours. With my son, though, it was very, very hard – so glad we both eventually found an answer (and that we can tell other mamas so they don’t have to struggle like we did!)

  5. Becca says:

    My mother, who was only born in 58, tried to convince me that nursing was disgusting and absolutely every time he would spit up a little, she would insist it was because of nursing, that his stomach couldnt and he needed formula. Thankfully, I ignored her and nursed anyway….

  6. Does fat mean flab? Freaky Fats part 3 | Crunchy Princess says:

    […] food is our immediate source of energy. We thought we were smarter than our bodies when there was a campaign against breastfeeding and there are those who still advocate for formula (want to know more about breastfeeding and the […]

  7. Simona says:

    Heather, thank you so much for posting this! I had a feeling that my ds had this. At 10 months old he was diagnosed with a mild cp so I attribute the breastfeeding issues to that (your story was almost identical to mine and we’re still doing every couple hours around the clock at 14 months old. During the day he eats more so it’s a bit less). He started developing problems with his right top front tooth. I started him on fclo but because of his many problems which added many supplements, he just started to completely refuse. He still doesn’t eat well so I have to pick my battles. My question… He definitely has a lip tie, I can see that clearly. But probably because of his increased sensitivity due to cp, the many supplements I’ve forced down him he just absolutely refuses to let my fingers come anywhere near his mouth so I can’t snap a pic or even see if he is tongue tied. I know about where the frenulum is and thought it was fairly normal but after reading your blog think it is not. But it would have been easier when he was a baby, now that he’s almost 15 months and so resistent I don’t know how I would even do the exercises. How did your daughter do without the procedure. I see you reversed her tooth decay by doing WAP. What about her speech any issues? (I realize that every case is different, just looking for some input. I’m pretty sure there isn’t a laser clinic here and really want to avoid another procedure with him but also want to do what’s best for him) Thanks!

  8. Top 10 Posts Of 2012 « The Mommypotamus The Mommypotamus says:

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    […] Is there a tongue tie or latch issue?  Mommypotomus has some great posts on this subject. […]

  10. Tara says:

    Torticolis, We did not know until she was three years old and her speech delay was diagnosed, includes a tong protrusion that slowly developed by 3 y.o. also. But looking back, she could not nurse for more than 30 seconds at a time. The nipple shield got it up to maybe 60 seconds, but she was so exhausted she past out every time. The Lactation nurse seemed more concern about getting though patients then helping to figure out why she didn’t stayed latched. She dropped one pound though I feed her every three hours on the dot. The final diagnosis is that the muscle in the neck are tight, and the muscles around the mouth are very very weak, most likely from birth.

  11. Amanda says:

    THANK YOU for sharing your experience, advice, and information. I came across this post after struggling through 9 months of breastfeeding with terrible recurring plugged ducts. We had my daughter’s tongue tie corrected at 2 days old, but we didn’t know anything about lip ties. After searching the internet for months I came across your post two days ago. That night we called and made an appointment for the next day (yesterday). My daughter had her consultation and surgery yesterday. It went well. She had a class 4 lip tie. She is already nursing better. I am hopeful it will help her in the future and now. I can’t thank you enough.

  12. A Step-By-Step Guide To Diagnosing Tongue/Lip Ties | The Mommypotamus | says:

    […] What do I want to do? Check for a tongue / lip tie, of course!  They can be such a source of so. much. misery. for nursing mamas and their sweet babes, including me. […]

  13. cindy says:

    thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
    I have just spotted my 3-mo-old daughters and seriously think that my older boys have the same problem. My oldest has speech problems and that could be part of it.

  14. Leah Marcus says:

    Heather, this post is absolutely changing my life. My son will be 6 weeks old tomorrow, and after trying everything under the son to get him to nurse, he became frustrated enough with it that we decided the other day that I will exclusively pump for him.
    Then I found this.
    I think he has a pretty severe lip tie, and I’m hopeful that correcting it could really give us a chance at nursing (although I’ve had to get to a point where I’m okay if it never happens, as much as I’ve always dreamed of extended nursing).
    I live in Ann Arbor MI, and just found this specialist who uses lasers and wasn’t in your list, so I wanted to let you know! Here’s the info I got from the internet:

    “Annette Skowronski, DDS, FAGD, PC
    Shelby Township, MI 48315
    Dr. Annette, a practicing family dentist of 27 years, has been trained for over 10 years in the laser revision of infant and adult lip and tongue tie revisions. She understands the problems associated with breastfeeding experienced by both mother and infant when lip and or tongue restrictions exist and its impact on future oral/dental development.”

  15. Observer says:

    My friend had an innovative approach that may help some of the issues – She realized that she didn’t have alot of breastmilk and was concerned that her daughter might nurse a long time but not get much milk (I have never heard of lip or tongue ties before reading this blog today, so likely others of our friends have had that issue unknowingly). Her solution: She expressed her milk with a double breastpump on a regular schedule, then gave the milk to the baby in a bottle on demand so she could see how much the baby was drinking and then supplement as needed. May help some others?

  16. Sunday Surf – January 15, 2012 Edition Hybrid Rasta Mama says:

    […] really insightful read so click on over to read part one which talks about the basics of why it is so darn difficult to successfully establish a breastfeeding relationship. Then check out part 2 if you are concerned about your baby possibly having a tongue tie. The […]

  17. Jenn says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for writing this. I came across your blog when I was researching reflux for my 3 month old. Nothing was working and I just knew that something else was going on. We had his lip and tongue ties lasered. It’s only been a couple of weeks but breastfeeding has improved dramatically. If it wasn’t for you, I would still be wondering what was wrong with my baby. Thank you again!!

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