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Tongue Tied: A Tale of Blood, Lasers and Tears

There’s nothing worse than seeing your baby screaming in pain. It’s quite another thing to watch his mouth fill with blood as well.

That’s what we experienced yesterday, and it was fairly traumatic for all involved.

But before I explain how and why this happened, we need to go back to Jasper’s birth, and the discovery of a little thing called ankyloglossia, or tongue-tie. It’s when the strip of skin connecting the baby’s tongue to the floor of their mouth is shorter than usual, restricting its movement. It can be a problem for breast feeding because if the tongue-tie is bad, the baby can’t stick its tongue out to get a good latch, or lift the tongue up to the roof of its mouth, which is essential for good sucking.

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A tongue-tie (not Jasper’s)

Jasper had a pretty bad tongue-tie, pretty much like what you see in this photo. Usually with this sort of thing you want to get it dealt with right away, and we did. Less than 12 hours after he was born, a nurse at the maternity unit came along with a big pair of scissors and snipped it. It wasn’t very pleasant but it wasn’t too bad, either. It didn’t bleed too much and Jasper stopped crying after a couple of minutes. We thought that was the end of it.

But no. When our midwife was at our house one day she noticed he had a lip tie as well. This is where the top lip connects to the top gum, restricting movement of the top lip, which is important for a good latch. She didn’t think it was affecting his feeding , but said some parents like to remove them to stop kids from getting a gap in their teeth later in life. The decision was up to us and there was no rush to decide. We decided to wait until the school holidays to get it sorted. We made the booking for the Hamilton clinic because it is a third of the price of the procedure in Auckland and has a great reputation.

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A lip-tie (also not Jasper)

We thought that was that but then a couple of weeks ago at his regular Plunket check the nurse also noticed his tongue was still a little heart-shaped at the tip (a classic sign of tongue-tie), and advised we get that checked out again as it may have re-attached.

So Wednesday was the day – two days ago.  We get there about 11:30am and fill out some forms before the nurse comes to get us. She sits us down in her office and takes a look at Jasper’s mouth and confirms he has the worst level of lip tie, which may have contributed to his complications with breastfeeding. (She also confirmed his tongue tie had come back and we should get that cut again, too). This hit Liv a bit hard . She had to stop breastfeeding a couple of weeks ago because she stopped making milk.  Liv thinks maybe if this was picked up on and fixed earlier Jasper would have been sucking better, and therefore the supply would have been greater.

Now, I should point out here that the jury is still out on whether lip and tongue ties are actually that big of a problem for breastfeeding. Some people are convinced they contribute to poor feeding, while others think it’s just another medical fad that serves no real purpose, like circumcision. Up to 10% of babies have tongue ties, and about eight percent are getting them cut, a huge increase from a decade ago.

In New Zealand, though, it seems the general advice is to get them cut if they’re at least a little bit bad, so that’s the advice we took. It’s more than just breastfeeding, too – sometimes lip ties can cause people to have a large gap in between their front teeth if it’s not fixed, and other dental problems that may require braces to fix. We figured that while that’s not life or death, it seems quick and easy just to get it fixed now and avoid all that.

Anyway, the nurse took us through the procedure. It’s pretty simple – they use a water laser to cut the strip of flesh on both the lip and tongue. It’s painless and takes about 30 seconds in total, she said. Sounds good, we thought.

Then the dentist came in and had a look in Jasper’s mouth. He wondered why we were there if Liv had stopped breastfeeding. We told him we just wanted to avoid any dental or speech issues later (tongue-ties can cause speech impediments because children can’t move their tongue’s like they should be able to).

Finally they were ready for Jasper. They kept us in the nurse’s office and they whisked him away. It’s better if we’re not there for the procedure, they said. We believed them, and were glad to be excused, quite frankly.

While they were doing it, Liv and I watched a two-minute video about how to care for the wounds once we got Jasper home. It seemed straight-forward enough – you just massage the cut site with your fingers for a few seconds several times day to stop it healing over.

As soon as the video was over, we heard this faint cry and knew it was our boy. They brought him back in to the room and he was as red as a beetroot, screaming his little head off. Liv took him and held him close, and he stopped crying after a few minutes. There was a little bit of blood but it stopped bleeding very quickly. The nurse gave us some gauze in case it started bleeding again.

We waited there for a few minutes, just to make sure Jasper was OK, and before long the smiles came out again and we knew he was all right, so we went on our way. We made the most of our little visit to Hamilton and had lunch in town before heading home.

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Jasper happy as can be to be leaving Hamilton

We got home about 3pm and everything seemed OK. Then about 4:30 he woke up screaming and I couldn’t console him, which is unusual, so I gave him some Pamol to calm him down. He was red in the face, screaming for about 25 minutes before he settled. That hasn’t happened before, so I was a little concerned. But eventually he returned to normal, so I thought he must just be hurting a little.

By 6pm, Jasper was happy enough and we just went about our nightly routine: bath, feed, in bed by 7 (that’s Jasper’s routine by the way. I wish it was mine). The night was normal and he didn’t seem to be in pain.

Yesterday morning – the day after – seemed like a normal day, mostly. Jasper was pretty settled and Liv and I were exhausted. About 9am I popped down to school for a bit to do some planning before classes resume next week, leaving Liv at home with Jasper for an hour or so.

When I returned,  Jasper was lying on his play mat on the floor. He seemed happy enough, wriggling and cooing as usual. Liv told me she had done the exercises we were instructed to do and his tongue-tie bled a little bit. Ok, no worries, I thought. But when I got down and looked at him close, there was quite a lot of blood in his mouth. Enough to make me concerned.

About this time he started crying. I’m not sure if he was actually in any pain, but he was becoming distressed. Maybe he was picking up on our anxiety, I don’t know. But as he got more agitated, the bleeding seemed to get worse. When I looked into his mouth there was blood all through it, and it started running out of his mouth. We used some of the gauze the dentist gave us to stop it, but it didn’t work.

We decided to get him down to the doctor right now, just in case the bleeding doesn’t stop. Meanwhile she got on the phone to the dentist who did the procedure – they said she’d call us back. She then called Healthline to ask them what to do. We had him in the car within a minute and were pulling out of the driveway within two. Jasper was screaming. The Healthline nurse – who was incredibly kind and helpful – was still on the phone to Liv but there wasn’t much she could do for us. We just needed someone to look at Jasper.

Luckily we live in Pukekohe where traffic isn’t an issue, so we got to the A&E in five minutes (in Auckland this would have been a 20-minute trip, easy). During the car ride, though, he calmed down. He was still bleeding quite a lot, but he definitely didn’t seem to be in pain. I guess the movement of the car just settled him.

We got into the A&E and went to the counter. Liv was crying, but Jasper was happy enough. We held tissues up to his mouth to catch the blood, which had slowed down a bit at this point. The staff there didn’t seem too concerned – the receptionist handed me a clipboard and told me to fill it out the obligatory form, as we hadn’t been there before. I was thinking, Huh? Shouldn’t someone see him right now? I can’t fill out a form, my son is bleeding!!

Right on cue Jasper did a bit of a vomit that was filled with blood and he and Liv started crying again. Suddenly two nurses came rushing out.  Jasper just grinned at them, with his gummy, bloody mouth. Sure, now he puts on the charm. You should have seen him 10 minutes ago, I thought.

We took Jasper into one of the consulting rooms and he was very calm, definitely not in pain. The nurses gave Liv a piece of gauze and made her put it on his tounge and hold his jaw shut for a few minutes. Jasper screamed throughout but the bleeding slowed and a decent clot was there under his tongue. The nurse said to leave it, as removing it would start the bleeding again.

A doctor came in and took a look. He shrugged apologetically and said there’s not much they can do, but to come back if it starts bleeding heavily again. They stressed though that if the bleeding was bad to call an ambulance straight away. Their advice was to ease up on the exercises for a day or two and let the cut heal a bit more before agitating it.

So they loaded us up with a bit more gauze and sent us on our way. I was just glad Jasper seemed OK. The bleeding had stopped and he was happy.

We got him home and he went straight to sleep. Liv lay next to him almost the entire nap, terrified he was going to choke on the clot or his blood. He didn’t. Later in the afternoon the dentist finally called Liv back, long after we needed any advice. She apologised and said the receptionists had downplayed the seriousness of it. In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t that serious, but it seemed it at the time.

The dentist said this was highly unusual and that they never see this kind of bleeding in children who’ve had lip or tongue ties cut. She put it down to his age – because he could stick his hands in his mouth now, he may have been playing with the cut site and that could have made it worse.

Anyway, since then, there has been no more blood, and we’ve even done the exercises with no complaint from him. So I think we’re over the worst of it.

When we have our next baby, if there’s a sign of a lip or tongue tie, we’re going to get it dealt with straight away. Like, the next day. It’s much less of an ordeal when they’re very little. Although we thought we had done this with Jasper, getting his tongue tie cut hours after his birth, getting the laser treatment done may have been more effective. Also, we weren’t told to do these exercises after that initial one, and that might have been why it came back.

Overall, yesterday was the scariest experience of our parenting so far, but I think we dealt with it well and did the right thing by getting him down to A&E. I’m sure there’ll be plenty more scares to come, but I hope we get a bit of a breather first.

 

 

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Travelling With Baby

Before we had Jasper, I imagined leaving the house with a baby would be a giant ordeal. I pictured hauling about five bags full of bottles, nappies and clothes into the boot of the car, along with the pram and other baby essentials, while trying to put a screaming baby into a car seat and pretending that everything is OK.

Now he’s three months old and reality is far more pleasant, I’m happy to report. We decided from the very beginning that we wanted to get out with Jasper as much as possible, no matter how hard it was. We knew it would be easier to just stay home, but we also knew we’d go crazy if we did that. I, for one, am a reasonably social person and I love getting out and doing things.

We took Jasper out for the first time when he was about a week old. We went to the Columbus Cafe at Mitre 10 (fancy, I know). He slept the whole time. We drank our coffee, wondering if this was just a fluke and if it’ll get harder as he gets older.

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Jasper sleeps through his first outing, to the Columbus Cafe at Mitre 10

The shorter answer is, not yet. The ‘yet’ is important, as I need something to fall back on when it eventually does get hard, and I expect it will at some point. But right now, he’s really good and getting out of the house with him is mostly great.

What we take with us

We don’t have any sort of fancy nappy bag or anything, just a standard Country Road tote bag that we throw everything into. We take:

  • at least two bottles – three if it’s going to be a long day. These will be filled with the appropriate amount of water for formula. We have enough formula to last a day.
  • at least two changes of clothes, including two layers for each change
  • a bunch of nappies
  • a couple of spill cloths
  • an extra blanket
  • the carrier, in case he’s getting shitty in the pram and we need to walk around with him.
  • a dummy or two

Our first real outing with him was when he was one month old. We took him to Sylvia Park mall to do some shopping and have lunch. I was a bit nervous, as Sylvia Park is a very busy, noisy place, especially on a Saturday, and I had no idea how well Jasper would hold up in the chaos. I think this outing was significant because it was us trying to show ourselves that we weren’t going to let the baby stop us from living our lives. Going shopping is something that we do sometimes and the baby just comes with us, no big deal.

So we get there and strap Jasper into the pram, shove a dummy into his mouth and off we go. So far so good. No crying yet. We walk through a few shops, try on some clothes, and he starts crying after about 20 minutes. I take him to an area that has seats and feed him while Liv looks in another shop. He settled a bit after that and we tried to sit down to lunch at a burger place, but he was pretty grizzly. Liv took him out of the pram and held him while we ate. I was super nervous that we were bothering the other people with our crying baby, who wasn’t even crying that much. Most people are really tolerant, anyway, so it was all good. In total, we were at the mall about 90 minutes but it felt like hours. In hindsight, I was pretty on edge and Jasper probably sensed that, which may have made him a bit more grizzly than usual. Also, he was only a month old and, well, babies are still pretty unsettled anyway at that age, right?

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Trying to keep Jasper settled while we eat lunch

After leaving the mall, we headed north to where my parents live, but stopped off at a camera shop on the way because I wanted to buy a lens. While I was inside, Liv stayed in the car to feed Jasper and change him. When I get back to the car, she’s worried because we didn’t have a pair of socks for him! He had been dressed in a onesie, but when that got dirty, our change of clothes was a pair of pants. Doh! Just one of those things you have to learn, I suppose.

There were also two occasions where we had to buy a whole can of formula while we were out. The first time, we were staying the night at my parents’ house and Liv had put a few scoops of formula into a snaplock bag rather than bring the whole can of formula. Jasper was having a particularly hungry day and I didn’t think we’d have enough to last him the night, so Liv rushed out to the supermarket to buy a can. Turns out we didn’t even need it! The other time, we were visiting some friends at my old school on a Friday afternoon and afterwards we went to a friends’ house for dinner. When we got there, we realised we left our feeding bag behind at school (containing Liv’s nipple shield, without which Jasper would not latch). There was no way to get the bag back that night, so I went to the supermarket and bought yet another can of formula. It was OK, because we’d use it anyway, but now we’re slightly more prepared about these things.

Staying at other people’s houses

We’ve done this a few times already, and it’s another example of our determination to do what we would have done without the baby. It’s hard work, though. On top of the usual stuff we’d take, we need more clothes, more nappies, more formula, his Moses basket, and his baby monitor. At first it was made even more difficult by the fact that we still didn’t really know what we were doing. The fist night we stayed at my parents’ house was a nightmare. Jasper was still waking several times a night and would need at least half-an-hour per feed. We were worried his crying would wake other people in the house but it didn’t. We didn’t sleep well, though. We were pretty anxious and tired (as usual!).

It has gotten a lot easier, though. As he’s getting older we’re getting into more of a routine with him and learning more about what he needs. That makes us more settled, and in turn so is Jasper. It also makes us better house guests. Recently we spent the night at some friends’ and we were able to get Jasper to bed reasonably early and then go and socialise with everyone else while he slept. He woke up eventually, but we had some time without baby, which was the main thing.

Our big road trip

One thing I was nervous about was driving us all back to Auckland from Palmerston North last week. Liv had spent the previous week down there, having flown down (read her story about that here). It’s a 477km trip, or about six hours if you don’t stop. When it was just us and Rocko it would take about six-and-a-half hours, but I had no idea what to expect with a baby.

Actually, yes I did, and I expected the worst. I expected having to stop every hour. I expected a baby screaming in the back the whole way. I expected the journey to take 10 hours.

It took us eight, with just two stops, one of which was a 45-minute lunch stop. I couldn’t believe how good Jasper was – he slept pretty much the whole way. The only time he got grizzly was when we had to stop for road works. Otherwise, it was a great trip. Liv sat in the back with him much of the way so she could put the dummy back in his mouth if it fell out, but really he dozed most of it anyway. Road trips will probably get harder as he gets older, and starts to get bored more easily, so we think in the future we might stop for a night in Taupo – half way – to break up the trip. In any case, this was a wonderful first road trip.

We had a lot of fun listening to some fantastic podcasts along the way, both of which I’d recommend. The first is My Dad Wrote A Porno. It’s about a guy who finds out his Dad has written an erotic novel under the pen name Rocky Flintstone. The podcast is just him and some friends sitting around a table reading the book one chapter at a time. It’s hilarious, and obviously a bit smutty, but if that doesn’t bother you then definitely give it a listen. The other one we loved was Stuff You Should Know. It’s by the guys who write the How Stuff Works website, and it’s wonderfully informative. Our favourite was the episode about Barbecue – turns out the way we do it in New Zealand, on our gas barbies, is actually grilling. True barbecue, which originates in the south of the US, is pork (or beef if you’re from Texas) slow cooked for hours over charcoal or briquettes on a kettle grill, or something similar. So that got excited about barbecuing and we’re excited to get a Weber and slow cook some fine meats this summer. Anyway, the podcast is great and there are many episodes so you’re sure to find something you’re interested in.

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Jasper sees the mountain for the first time
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The whole family
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Jasper’s First Plane Ride

Liv took Jasper to Palmerston North last week to spend some time with her mum. It was the last week of the school term, so the plan was she would fly down with Jasper on the Sunday, and I’d drive down the following Saturday and spend a few days there before driving us all back to Auckland. That would be our first proper road trip with J, but more on that later. First, you need to read Liv’s account of the plane ride. It was quite an ordeal! 


 

It’s safe to say I was pretty anxious about our first flight. Everyone tried to reassure me that everything would be fine as long as I fed him on take off and landing, as the sucking helps to stop the baby’s ears from popping. I kept saying to myself “it’s only an hour, even if he screams the whole time it is only an hour”. Still, I had trouble sleeping the night before.

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At the airport, ready to board our plane

We were due to depart at 3.30pm, but I wanted to be at the airport super early because I thought it could be busy being a Sunday afternoon and the day after the election. We got to the airport about 2.20. I’d done my research and knew I had to check in at the counter instead of the electronic booths so that we could get Jasper’s pram put on as luggage. We did that and then went down to the eating area to grab a late lunch. I fed Jasper and also got Caleb to make up a bottle of formula for the plane just in case he went crazy. I put all the things I wanted within arms reach on the plane into a plastic bag inside our carry on. Things like a bottle, a dummy, my Kindle, my water bottle, a serve of formula and a spill cloth.

 

 

 

 

 

We headed down to the check in area for the regional flights and I put Jasper in the carrier so I could wear him. He quickly fell fast asleep. We said our goodbyes to Caleb and boarded the plane. As soon as I got on the plane the other passengers quickly offered their help to get us into our seats. It was extremely reassuring. The Air NZ person came and told me I had to take Jasper out of the carrier and put him into an infant seat belt. This is literally a seat belt that clicks onto the adult one. I have never felt less sure about Jasper’s safety in all his life. I asked where to put it on my belt and she said “anywhere, it doesn’t matter”. She probably knew, like me, that there would be no way in hell of him surviving a plane crash with that sorry excuse for a restraint. He was far more secure in my carrier but I obliged and put him in the belt. Luckily he stayed asleep for the first half of the flight. I just gave him a dummy for a few minutes to suck while we took off.

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Happy baby, before things got crazy

About half way in Jasper woke up and I gave him his bottle. Trying to get your tit out on a cramped domestic plane seemed way to hard. He happily drank away.

Then all hell broke loose.

We had just flown past the mountains and then wham. We started having really bad turbulence. You know how the plane kind of drops as you are about to land? We were having that in the air while flying. Jasper starts screaming, that awful screaming where his face goes red. The lovely lady next to me holds him for a minute while I dig around for my nipple shield (Jasper still won’t latch without it, after he got so used to it in the early days). I try and feed him to calm him but he still goes nuts. There was no way he was having a bar of my boob. We try to play peek-a-boo and his crying becomes a much more manageable whinge.

Eventually we go to land. We started our descent and then the plane started shaking and falling again. The turbulence was back. I’ve never experienced anything like it, people were holding onto their armrests trying to stay sturdy. Jasper starts screaming hysterically again. We start descending and then all of a sudden we jerk upwards. A few minutes later the pilot told us that it wasn’t safe to land and that we would circle above for 15 minutes and then try again. He said it wasn’t likely though, and we’d probably have to land in Wellington and be bussed up to Palmy. We still have crazy turbulence and now I’m starting to panic. I only have enough formula for three bottles. He’s already had one. If we get diverted and then have to catch the bus to Palmerston North, Jasper will starve. (A slight aside – I have pretty much no breast milk from about 3pm each day, which is when Jasper starts to get formula fed for the night, so breastfeeding was out. Also, I had no idea how Jasper would be transported on a bus. Would I just hold him?)

So, we have crazy turbulence. I am clutching on to my son for dear life because he is in a shitty excuse for a seatbelt, I don’t know how we will get to palmy, I have no food for him and I am pretty much thinking I am the worst mum in the world.

We fly around in crazy turbulence again. We attempt to land again. Nope, same thing happened as last time except the turbulence was worse. We jerk upwards again and the pilot again explains that we can’t land and it looks like we are on our way to Wellington.

I’m pretty much a mess at this time. I’m getting the sympathetic stares at Jasper’s screaming and I’m starting to worry about the night ahead. The lovely lady next to me could see I had tears in my eyes. She picks up Jasper (we’d abandoned the seatbelt at this point) and I make up the bottle and mention I can’t give him much because I only have enough formula for one more bottle. She grabs my hand and says when we land in Wellington she will call her husband. He can pick up the carseat from my mums in Palmy on the way and drive the two hours to meet us at Wellington airport. While we are waiting at the airport she will get a taxi and go and get some formula and come back. She was pretty much an angel in disguise.

Our plan is in place. I’m feeling a bit calmer, Jasper is having his bottle. Then, the turbulence hits again. Cue the screaming (from Jasper, although I suspect a lot of the other passengers wanted to as well). The pilot surprises us and says he is going to attempt one more time to land. It was shaky as all hell, but he did it. Everyone clapped when we landed. I’ve never had that happen before. Suddenly a few people jump up around me. They are pulling my bag down from the overhead luggage, packing up our things, helping me get Jasper into the carrier and then let me get off the plane first. I suspect most of them must be parents and knew how terrible I felt. The minute we stepped outside he stopped crying. My happy Jasper was back again. We survived our first flight.

It’s funny how in the heat of the moment everything seems so awful. Reasonable Liv knows someone would have organised formula for us. But I’m so thankful for the lady sitting next to me on the plane. I’m still trying to hunt her down to send her a thank you card. Strangers are wonderful.

I have no worries about flying again with him. I don’t know if it’s possible for it to be any worse. And now I know to just pack a heap of formula in my carry on just in case.

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Hi!

This blog’s about my experience being a first-time dad. There’s nothing objectively groundbreaking about the subject, I know, but really it’s an outlet for me to share my thoughts and experiences about what it’s like having a baby from a male point of view.

While billions of other men have done This Dad Thing before me, when you’re having your first kid, it really does seem like you’re the first person in history to go through this stuff. There’s a little bump in my wife’s belly and when I put my hands there it gives me a little nudge sometimes and I get a little twinge of anticipation. It’s such a strange sensation that most of the time, I don’t think I fully comprehend what is happening. Sometimes I forget we’re having a baby and it’s just this thing that’s happening to my wife and I’m a bystander, and other times I can barely contain my excitement and wish he’d just get here already.

The thing about babies is that it’s something men don’t really talk about. They talk about kids, of course, but not babies. That’s a woman’s domain, apparently. So that’s why I’ve started this blog – it’s not a blog for dads – it’s for anyone interested in sharing in one dad’s journey.

I live in Pukekohe, south Auckland, with my wife, Liv, and our dog, Rocko. I teach social studies at the local High School and Liv works in the city. We both used to be journalists, and that’s how we met. It was February 23, 2011, the day after the second Christchurch earthquake – the Big One – and I was working in Auckland for Newstalk ZB. Liv worked in Palmerston North at the time, but they flew her up to the Auckland newsroom to help with news gathering. We met that evening during a brief quiet period, and we hit it off right away. By mid-2012 she was living in Auckland, too, and we finally got together. We got engaged a year later and married in early 2014. By that time I’d had enough of journalism and started teaching, which I enjoy so much more.
These are some things that I love: Collecting and listening to records; watching the Blue Jays; making beer; taking photos; reading; jigsaw puzzles; running; building kitset furniture (really); watching telly; actually going to the cinema.