What You Should Know About Breastfeeding a Tongue-Tied Baby

Breastfeeding your baby is a wonderful way to bond with your baby and nourish their body at the same time. It isn’t always easy, but it can be very rewarding for those mamas who want to make a commitment to breastfeed. One common hurdle that can make nursing difficult (or even painful for mama) is a tongue-tie. But don’t worry, we’re here to help!

What is a tongue-tie?

In the simplest terms, a tongue-tie is when the piece of skin that connects your tongue to the bottom of your mouth is too short or too tight. That piece of skin is called a frenulum, and even though it’s small, it can cause big problems when it comes to breastfeeding. A tongue-tie prevents babies from stretching their tongues out and over their gums and doesn’t let them draw enough of their mom’s areola into their mouth. In an effort to get enough milk, tongue-tied babies may “root” on their mother’s nipple. When that happens, the baby doesn’t get enough milk per nursing session and it can cause chapped nipples or broken skin for the mother.

What is a lip-tie?

Similar to a tongue-tie, babies may have what is called a lip-tie. In addition to the frenulum in the bottom of your mouth, you have one at the top. This one connects the upper lip to the gums. Babies who are born with a short or tight upper frenulum have what is called a lip-tie. This is another common problem that can restricts the movement of the mouth that can make breastfeeding difficult.

Ask for a check in the hospital

Many hospitals have lactation consultants that help new moms learn the art of breastfeeding. Ask your lactation consultant, pediatrician or nurse to check your baby for a tongue or lip tie while you’re still in the hospital. Many times, this will be standard procedure and will be part of the checks that your baby already undergoes. But if it’s not standard protocol, ask for a quick exam. It’s a really common question that your postpartum care team will be used to hearing. The sooner that you know if your baby has a tongue-tie, the better. Early detection will make it easier to correct and get your breastfeeding journey off to a better start.

How to know if your baby has a tongue-tie

The most surefire way to know if your baby has a tongue or lip tie is to have it diagnosed by a doctor or a dentist. But there are a few signs that you can look out for too.

1. Baby has difficulty lifting or moving tongue
2. Baby struggles to stay latched or latch is shallow and/or painful for mom
3. Poor weight gain, due to not transferring enough milk
4. Clicking or smacking noises
5. Milk leaking from corners of baby’s mouth
6. Baby is frustrated while trying to nurse
7. Prolonged nursing or feeding sessions
8. Baby seems constantly hungry (and often times fussy) due to low milk consumption

Tips to breastfeed a tongue-tied baby

The first and most important thing to do if you suspect your little one has a tongue tie is notify their doctor or a dentist for a formal diagnosis. But before you’re able to get medical help, there are some things you can try.

1. Try a nipple shield.
2. Experiment with many different nursing positions.
3. Use a breast pump to feed your baby expressed milk (this will also ensure you maintain your milk supply.)
4. Learn more extensive positioning tips from a breastfeeding expert like La Leche League International or a mom’s support group.
5. Contact your lactation consultant for help.

And the most important tip – be patient with yourself and your baby. And don’t be afraid to ask for help! Tongue-ties and lip-ties are one of the most common reasons that a mom gives up on breastfeeding. And for some moms, that’s the right decision and it’s okay! But stopping a breastfeeding journey before a mom is ready can cause feelings of guilt or regret. Remember that just because breastfeeding is natural, doesn’t mean it’s easy. There are so many resources out there to help you. You don’t have to go through this alone!

What is a Frenectomy?

A medical procedure to correct a tongue or lip-tie is called a Frenectomy. You may have heard this procedure referred to as having a tongue or lip tie “clipped.” In the most basic terms, your child’s mouth will be numbed and the restricting frenulum will be snipped. This will result in more movement from the tongue after a brief healing period. The procedure may be done with a scalpel, medical scissors or a laser. Learn more about this procedure HERE.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Will a frenectomy immediately fix the problem?

It’s been reported by the Journal of Human Lactation, that 80 percent of breastfeeding sessions were improved within 24-hours of a frenectomy. However, there is a healing period that should be expected and may not lead to immediate results. There are also tongue and mouth exercises that you will need to complete with your baby. After that home oral therapy and recovery time, many mothers and babies will be able to successfully breastfeed.

Who Should I Contact?

If you think that your baby may have a tongue or lip tie, it can be diagnosed by your pediatrician. Or you can feel free to call our office directly. While a pediatric doctor has extensive knowledge of tiny bodies, we have extensive knowledge that is specific to the mouth. We’re happy to help you determine if an oral tie may be present and discuss your options for correction.

Good luck!

Breastfeeding is a beautiful gift that some mothers are able to give to their babies. Tongue ties and many, many other circumstances may make breastfeeding difficult, frustrating or even impossible. Give yourself plenty of grace while you’re trying to navigate this new time in your life. The fact that you’re here and reading this blog proves that you’re doing everything possible to give your baby the best in life. Make sure give yourself credit for that!

If a lip or a tongue tie is causing you problems, we want you to know that you’re not alone. Call us today to see how we can help.

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