Dealing With Tongue-Tie & Breastfeeding: All You Need to Know

baby-tongue-tie
Credit: Filip Mroz Oko via Unsplash

Tongue-tie in babies is extremely common but can make breastfeeding painful – but how do you know if your baby has it and how severe it is? Here, we tell you all you need to know about newborn tongue-tie and how to deal with it.

Dealing With Tongue Tie: All You Need to Know

Babies with a tongue-tie can affect breastfeeding, baby’s weight and more. It is extremely common, but sometimes needs treating with surgery.

We spoke to a lactation consultant at the NHS who tells you all you need to know about dealing with your baby’s tongue-tie.

What is Tongue-tie?

A tongue-tie is a piece of skin under the tongue, the frenulum, which restricts the full movement of the tongue.

It may be attached to the tip of the tongue or it can be subtle and invisible to the untrained eye but still cause significant breastfeeding problems.

What Does Tongue-tie Look Like?

if you suspect your baby may have a tongue tie, you may feel pain or struggle to breastfeed within the first few days or weeks of your baby being born.

A sign your baby may have a tongue-tie can be if you notice your baby has difficulty lifting the tongue to the upper teeth or moving the tongue from side to side, trouble sticking out their tongue past the lower front teeth or a tongue that appears heart-shaped when stuck out.

lockdown-baby-boomDoes my Baby Need Tongue-tie Surgery?

An extended latch technique may be supportive of your baby getting onto the breast deeper if he is struggling to attach himself. It takes a little practice but as successful breastfeeding depends on your baby latching onto your breast correctly it is worth the effort. When an excessive amount of air reaches the stomach due to a poor latch, abdominal distension, belching, and flatulence often develop.

Babies who suffer from reflux and excessive wind are often treated with medication but many no longer require the medication once the tongue-tie has been divided. If you find your baby struggles to settle lying down, it may be helpful to tilt the cot up at the head end, ensuring the baby has his feet at the bottom of the cot for safety, until you can get an assessment of the tongue-tie.

Experience has shown that tongue-ties are not outgrown, stretch or separate spontaneously as many tongue-tie babies have a mum or dad with intact tongue-ties. Therefore, if the tongue-tie is symptomatic, it should be assessed as early as possible for prompt division.

How Can I Make Breastfeeding Less Painful if my Baby Has a Tongue-tie?

If you feel you are unable to breastfeed, due to the nipple trauma, expressing a minimum of eight to ten times in 24 hours and giving your baby all your milk will ensure a good supply is maintained until she is able to feed painlessly.

The way your body uses hormones to produce and supply milk will be enhanced if you take time out to continue with lots of skin on skin contact with your baby. Ask a skilled breastfeeding supporter to demonstrate the extended latch, which helps your baby get a deeper latch onto the breast by flipping the nipple into the open mouth. Some babies benefit from lying on top of their mother and using gravity to help them get a deeper and more comfortable latch, also known as laid back breastfeeding.

Using nipple shields may be an option, but it is important that a skilled lactation expert supports you, as evidence shows shields have a negative effect on milk production used inappropriately or in long term. Finally, if you have sore nipples, you may get some comfort from using a pure lanolin ointment, sparingly on the nipples to prevent them sticking to your breast pads.

breastfeeding-tongue-tieWhen Shall I Treat My Baby’s Tongue-tie?

Worldwide evidence demonstrates the wide range of issues tongue-tied babies can experience right through until adulthood. Whilst a tongue-tie is not usually life threatening in its effects, it can be life affecting. A baby requires a good range of tongue movement to move food and liquid around the mouth and during swallowing it is vital to control bolus of food to ensure it reached the food pipe and not the windpipe.

Your GP may prefer to refer your baby to a dietician for coping strategies as in time your baby will adapt to eating solids and eat a normal diet. If a tongue-tie division is recommended, your doctor may recommend a light general anaesthetic to carry out the procedure safely.

Older babies usually have teeth, which although small can be very sharp and dangerous to fingers, and eleven-month-old children can also be very wriggly!

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