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Has your baby had difficulty latching, making breastfeeding incredibly difficult if not impossible? Are your nipples sore and cracked no matter how much coconut oil or nipple cream you slather on them? Is your little one not gaining weight, or even losing? Have you checked his tongue?
I recently had a conversation with a mom about the hard time she had breastfeeding her now teenage daughter. Her newborn baby’s improper latch gave her horrible nipple soreness that never really went away until she weaned. She tried and tried to correct her daughter’s latch, but eventually just gave up and learned to deal with it. What a trooper!
I encouraged her to look at her daughter’s frenulum, and lo and behold, she had a minor case of tongue tie present…16 years after the fact! But wouldn’t it have been better if someone would have recognized that early on so this mama didn’t have to go through all that?
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What Is Tongue Tie?
Tongue tie, or ankyloglossia, is a relatively common yet often missed birth defect. It occurs when the frenulum (that skinny piece of tissue under your tongue) is too short and connects too close to the tip of the tongue. This makes it really hard for your baby to move his tongue in a way to create a proper latch on to your breast, but he can usually still be fed by a bottle.
While the feeding issue can theoretically be worked around (although breast is still best), tongue tie can also cause other problems later in life. Many tongue-tied children have speech impedients, and some toddlers and preschoolers experiencing discomfort from tongue tie resort to biting peers as a coping mechanism. That certainly isn’t something we want!
What Can I Do About It?
Fortunately, there is a relatively cure for tongue tie. This procedure, called a frenotomy, involves a doctor, dentist or midwife clipping the frenulum to give your baby’s tongue free range of motion.
I’ll admit, when I first heard of this procedure I was a little wigged out, too. But truly, a baby’s frenulum has very few nerve endings, so it’s best to take care of the problem as soon as possible. Here are some benefits to getting the frenotomy performed as soon as tongue tie is detected:
- Baby will immediately be able to latch properly and nurse normally (in fact, nursing right after the procedure will give him all the comfort he needs).
- The earlier the procedure is done, the less painful and traumatic it will be.
- You won’t have to risk biting or speech problems due to his tongue tie later on.
- Your poor nipples will almost immediately go back to normal with just a little bit of coconut oil to heal them!
Of course, this procedure isn’t right for everyone. Some cases of tongue tie will not cause enough problems for you to deem the clip worthwhile. While there isn’t always a surefire way of knowing this, whoever diagnosed your baby’s tongue tie (your pediatrician, family doctor, dentist, OB or midwife) may be able to tell you whether he or she thinks your baby will grow out of it. (Yes, that can happen!) And if your baby is gaining weight adequately and your nipple discomfort is absent or enough to put up with, or if you would rather bottle feed until determining whether or not your child will need the snip, you may decide to forgo the procedure all together.
The moral of the story? Kind of like what it is with everything. It’s all up to you!
Editor’s note: We recently had our daughter’s lip tie revised. I highly recommend seeing a IBCLC (Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant) if you suspect that a tongue or lip tie is a problem for your baby. Also, research the different methods of revision. We chose to see a pediatric dentist who used a water laser to revise our daughter’s tie. I personally would not choose to have a tongue or lip tie revised using the scissor method, but that is a choice that you have to make depending on what is right for your family.