Breastfeeding Trouble: Could Your Baby Have Tongue Tie?

This common birth condition, which restricts the movement of the tongue, can make breastfeeding difficult

Although not massively common, tongue tie can cause problems for babies – especially when breastfeeding. The hereditary condition affects around three per cent of babies and can lead to problems latching on.

It often goes unnoticed and many mums don’t realise it’s the reason that their little one is struggling to breastfeed.

Tongue tie is often a condition that goes by unnoticed. [Rex]
Tongue tie is often a condition that goes by unnoticed. [Rex]

What Is Tongue Tie?
Simply put, tongue tie means that the bit of membrane that joins the base of your baby’s tongue to the floor of his mouth has not divided properly before birth.

“The level of division varies from baby to baby which is why we have different terminology such as a complete tie, moderate tie and mild tie,” says breastfeeding expert Geraldine Miskin. “Where the tie attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth is also relevant. Your baby may have an anterior tie meaning that the tip of his tongue is tied or a posterior tie, which means that the tie is placed further back.

“It restricts your baby’s tongue movement forward, sideways and upward, depending on where it ties and how tight the tie is.”

Why Can Tongue Tie Affect Breastfeeding?
Tongue tie can make breastfeeding tricky for both you and your baby. In order for your baby to be able to feed as he should, his tongue needs to push forward over his lower gum to make space in his mouth for a good mouthful of your breast.

“This ensures that your nipple is at the back of your baby’s mouth, out of harms way, and that his tongue is in full contact with your areola so he can easily drain the milk from your breast,” says Geraldine.

“When your baby is only able to manage a shallow latch, your nipple comes into constant contact with his little abrasive tongue and he is not able to access the milk producing tissue located just behind the areola.”

Your baby may look like he’s feeding but his tongue tie means he won’t be getting enough milk, which can lead to frequent feeds as your bub is never completely full. Cue high levels of exhaustion for you both!

It’s not fun for you, either – it can make nipples very sore. “If your baby’s tie is very tight, he won’t be able to push it forward over his lower gum and lip. This is a problem because your baby’s tongue needs to come out of his mouth to create room for your breast. When baby’s tongue occupies all the space in his mouth, there is little room for your breast so your nipple doesn’t get to the back of baby’s mouth and becomes damaged by constant contact of baby’s tongue.”

Treatment Options
Contrary to popular belief, not all babies need their tongue tie divided and some even suffer more after the procedure than before.

“This results in no improvement to feeds but the baby develops scar tissue under his tongue, which is much worse than the original tie,” says Geraldine.

You can have your baby assessed for a tongue tie or your can do it yourself. “Sit your baby on your lap facing you, supporting his back and the back of his head with one hand,” says Geraldine.  “Slip your right hand index finger under his tongue and move your finger from right to left. If you feel a bit of membrane as you come round the front of his tongue, he has a tongue tie.”

It may be worth seeing a cranial osteopath, too. “Your baby’s restricted tongue movement may be due to your labour and his birth which can be reduced with gentle non-invasive treatment,” Geraldine explains. “It is worth doing this before you have baby’s tie divided anyway, to ensure that baby’s tongue moves freely post procedure to reduce the chance of the tie reforming.”

But some babies do require their tongue tie to be sorted surgically. It’s a simple procedure and is usually done with a laser or surgical scissors. “Laser divides are neat, accurate and complete. Ties using a pair of scissors are standard and very effective when in the hands of a surgeon,” says Geraldine.

Tongue tie affects some three per cent of babies. [Rex]
Tongue tie affects some three per cent of babies. [Rex]

How To Help Your Baby Breastfeed – Despite His Tongue Tie
If you choose not to get your baby’s tongue tie divided, there are some DIY ways that you can make breastfeeding easier.

“Focus on getting a good latch so that your baby is off-centre with his lower lip away from the base of your nipple and his top lip right next to it,” says Geraldine.

“Once your baby has latched on, tuck his bottom close to you, so that his chin indents your breast and his nose is free. This helps your nipple go further back into his mouth. Check that both his cheeks are touching your breast, so that he gets a good mouthful of breast.”

If you can feel biting or tugging, curl baby’s lower lip down and see if that feels better. “You want to feel a tugging sensation as this tells you that baby’s tongue is over his gum. Remember that if your nipples are already a bit damaged it will feel tender even if it’s more of a tug.”

Has tongue tie interfered with breastfeeding your baby? Tweet us your story at @YLifestyleUK.

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