By: Gabrielle Hathaway M.S., IBCLC
You may have heard the term “tongue tie” in association with
breastfeeding difficulties. What is it? Is it fixable? Tongue tie, or
ankyloglossia, refers to a condition in which the small piece of skin that anchors the tongue to the bottom gum is too short. This can restrict baby’s ability to properly stimulate the breast, form a good latch, and can also cause pain to the mother during nursing. There are varying degrees of tongue tie, and less severe cases can often resolve on their own (the frenulum will gradually stretch through breastfeeding). There are some examples of the different degrees of tongue tie here, courtesy of Dr.Lawrence Kotlow, DDS. There is also a less common labial tongue tie, in which the skin between the top lip and gum is shortened.
If you are having trouble with pain during breastfeeding and have tried adjusting positioning, look at your baby’s tongue. How? Stick yourtongue out and usually, even a very young baby will try to mimic you. Does her tongue form a heart shape? Is she unable to extend her tongue beyond the bottom lip? These may be signs of a tongue-tie. Ask your pediatrician to take a look and explain your concerns. If a diagnosis of ankyloglossia is made, the pediatrician may recommend clipping the frenulum (frenotomy). As scary as this sounds, it is a simple procedure and your baby should be able to nurse right away (you may be shocked at how much better it feels!). Some pediatricians do not clip for tongue-tie and you may want to ask a pediatric dentist or ENT if they can do it. I have had a few clients recently whose babies were “clipped”right in the hospital during the postpartum stay and the affect on breastfeeding was immediate and positive.
I want to emphasize that I am not advocating for unnecessary intervention. Sometimes it seems that one condition is getting g a lot of press and everyone seems to be getting diagnosed with it! Tongue-tie is a real
condition, and can make breastfeeding difficult. The condition tends to run in families, and affects about 3-5% of all babies. Talk to your provider if you are concerned and seek help from a lactation consultant in order to have the best breastfeeding experience possible.
Gabrielle Hathaway, IBCLC
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