Think your baby might have a tongue or lip tie? You are not alone! It is estimated that more than 4% of babies are born with some degree of a tongue and/or lip tie. Now, more than ever, there has been an increased awareness of tongue and lip ties and the effects they can have on nursing couples, as breastfeeding rates begin to rise.
Just what is a tongue or lip tie? Tongue-tie (the medical term is ankyloglossia) is a condition present at the time of birth which restricts the tongue’s range of motion. When a baby is tongue-tied, it means their frenulum (band of tissue connecting the tip of the tongue to the floor of the mouth) is shorter, thicker or tighter than normal. This can present difficulty when feeding, speaking, and swallowing. While tongue-ties can create many issues later on, if not corrected, such as delayed speech and poor dental health, there can also be immediate and severe effects on breastfeeding beginning at birth.
The consequences of an untreated tongue-tie vary greatly, depending on the severity of the condition and age of the baby. The most troublesome consequences for breastfeeding couples include:
- Reduced milk supply
- Early weaning
- Failure to thrive
- Sleep deprivation
- Nipple trauma, bleeding, blanching or distortion of the nipple
- Pain while breastfeeding
- Clogged ducts and milk blebs (AKA “milk blisters”)
- Inability to latch or shallow latch
- Depression or a sense of failure for the nursing mother
Severe pain during and following nursing sessions is always a concern and a “red flag” which should be discussed with a lactation counselor immediately. Pain while nursing is generally the first indicator that a tongue or lip is present. However, not all nursing mothers of babies with tongue and/or lip ties will experience pain. Since the tongue plays a very important role in breastfeeding, restriction of the tongue makes it difficult for a baby to open its mouth wide, latch on, and extract milk. Because of this, a tongue or lip tie generally has a negative effect on the nursing mother’s milk supply and can make it difficult to maintain a full supply.
Signs of a tongue-tie:
- Latch problems
- Chronic sore nipples
- Pain while nursing
- “Clicking” or “popping” while nursing
- Short feedings
- Prolonged feedings
- Poor weight gain
- Increased fussiness or crying
- Reflux or colic
- Popping on and off the nipple while nursing
Physical characteristics of a tongue-tie:
- Gap between teeth
- Lip callus
- Inability to stick out tongue
- Inability to lift tongue to the roof of the mouth
- Only the edges/sides of the tongue curl up when baby cries
- Tip of tongue is heart-shaped
If you suspect your baby has a tongue or lip tie, the best thing to do is reach out to a pediatrician or dentist who is EXPERIENCED in diagnosing tongue and lip ties. Unfortunately, many pediatricians receive little to no training on ankyloglossia and will dismiss or misdiagnose this condition. When seeking help, it is important to work with a preferred provider who has studied lip and tongue ties and understands the importance of treating problematic cases which hinder breastfeeding. Pediatric dentists may or may not be skilled in the diagnoses and treatment of tongue and lip ties. Most lactation consultants can help you determine if a tongue or lip tie is likely, however, they will not be able to give you an official diagnoses. Only a licensed physician or dentist can diagnose any condition, including tongue and lip ties. More importantly, lactation consultants are not able to treat tongue and lip ties.
Treatment for a tongue and/or lip tie is usually simple and can be performed in your pediatrician or dentist’s office in as little as 5 minutes. The procedure itself takes just seconds. Treatment consists of “clipping” the membrane with surgical scissors or by laser to release the tongue. This procedure is known as a “frenotomy.” Generally, there is very little bleeding or discomfort to the baby and nursing can be resumed immediately following the procedure.
For a list of preferred providers in your area and for support, join the Tongue-Tie Babies Support Group on Facebook. For more information of the effects of tongue and lip ties on breastfeeding, assessment, diagnoses, and treatment, visit Dr. Kotlow’s website. Dr. Kotlow is the leading expert on tongue and lip ties in the U.S. and has trained many of the preferred providers who now specialize in ankyloglossia.
Central FL mothers may consider contacting the following Pediatric Dentists for evaluation and additional information on laser tongue and lip tie revisions:
St. Cloud Office
Ph: (904) 505-2010
3267 Hodges Blvd #13
Jacksonville, FL, 32224