Tongue-Tie Basics

“If your baby has a tongue tie, does that mean you can’t breastfeed?” That question came up in a class and I hear this during home visits. Let’s review some basics about tongue ties.

For breastfeeding, sucking and swallowing, the baby’s mouth and tongue move together in a specific way. The baby’s mouth opens wide, the tongue extends and grasps the nipple and ‘stretches’ it back to the middle palate. Then the baby sucks and swallows. That’s a good latch.

If the tongue can’t easily extend and move, it may be there’s some tissue that ‘ties’ the tongue to the floor of the mouth. Thus,a tongue-tie. Pinched nipples, painful latching, plugged ducts, or baby sleeping at breast and not gaining weight: any of these may, or may not, indicate a tongue-tie. They are always a reason to consult with an IBCLC.

Rather than try to figure all this out on your own, review tongue-ties with an experienced IBCLC. She can observe feeding, review you and your baby’s history, see what other techniques help. There is much that influences a baby’s ability to latch and feed. I’ve also found positioning changes and gentle bodywork for infants to be helpful.

If there is a tongue tie, it can be remedied. This is done by having a Tongue-Tie Release or a frenotomy. It is a procedure that takes, literally, about three and a half minutes. There is no anesthesia, no stitches, there is no hospital visit with overnight stay.

Nor is it a miracle. Babies sometimes take awhile to figure their new-found tongue mobility. An IBCLC can refer you to an experienced practitioner who has treated tongue-ties for breastfeeding infants. For follow-up and any questions, you can keep in touch with her.

With a newborn and with a mom in pain, nothing is a small matter. When feeding is difficult, you need help. Tongue-tie doesn’t have to be an obstacle to comfortable breastfeeding.

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