We Need to Talk About Tongue-tie in Babies

By Sofie Jacobs
 

Being tongue-tied conjures up, for most of us, an image of a nervous, stammering person tripping over words. But did you know it’s a common condition that’s thought to affect 1 in 10 newborns? And what’s worse it often goes undetected or ignored by some medical professionals. In fact, it’s still not a mandatory part of the routine baby check. This fact gets me on my high horse as I see this condition over and over again in my practice. Tongue-tie leaves many babies and parents to suffer in silence the multitude of difficulties which can arise from this condition. But if detected early after birth it can be easily treated and many complications avoided. So why isn’t it taken seriously and being made a priority?

What is Tongue Tie?

Tongue-tie, also known as “ankyloglossia or anchored tongue”, is a structural abnormality of the lingual frenum (the funny looking strip of skin that stretches from under the tongue to the floor of the mouth).  When the frenum is normal it is elastic and doesn’t interfere with the movements of the tongue. In tongue-tied babies it can be short, thick, tight, positioned too far back or too far forward. This reduces tongue mobility which can affect sucking, eating, swallowing and speech not to mention anything else that requires optimum tongue mobility, like licking ice cream!

How Do I Know if My Baby is Tongue-tied?

As this condition is often overlooked, a lot of babies, Mumas (when breastfeeding directly and otherwise indirectly) and Dads, unnecessarily suffer from the effects of tongue-tie. And these are not just physical but emotional as well. The most obvious but not only early sign is that the baby cannot breastfeed properly, which of course can have implications on all aspects of the baby’s growth and development

So what are the signs and symptoms?

For Baby:

 

1. Low sucking ability limiting milk supply

2. Refusal to breastfeed

3. Failure to thrive

4. Low weight or poor weight gain

5. Vomiting or gagging during feeding

6. Colic

7. Prolonged, excessive drooling

8. Sleep deprivation

9. Unusual appearance of tongue and it’s movements

10. Perfect visible latch but any of the above symptoms

11. Tightness in the jaw and neck

 

 

For Muma:

 

1. Pain

2. Nipple damage, bleeding, blanching or distortion of the nipples

3. Mastitis, nipple thrush or blocked ducts

4. Severe pain with latch or losing latch

5. Sleep deprivation caused by the baby being unsettled

6. Depression or a sense of failure

The above symptoms are not exclusively related to tongue-tie, but as a precaution must be checked by a professional who has experience in diagnosing tongue-tie.

Diagnosing Tongue-tie

Unfortunately, tongue-tie is a very common yet often overlooked condition. Up until 1940 tongue-tie was routinely checked and treated to help feeding. This began to change for two reasons, doctors were encouraged to avoid any unnecessary surgery, no matter how non-invasive, and the practice of breastfeeding was declining. The belief quickly spread that it was not a “real” medical problem and was soon left out of routine baby checks.

This is such a shame because if diagnosed and treated early tongue-tie can be easily corrected. It’s something that’s a mandatory part of my routine baby checks and luckily for me, and my clients, I work with a family doctor that not only recognises tongue-tie, but also understands the issue and treats it with a simple in-office procedure. Tongue-tie can be diagnosed by a trained professional by easily lifting the baby’s tongue and observing the length, width, thickness and elasticity of the strip of skin under it as well as the mobility of the tongue. An anterior tongue-tie is easier to diagnose and a bit more recognised than a posterior tongue-tie though both types can cause havoc.

‘I always wanted to breastfeed but I was told that my milk supply was low and had to switch to formula. When my little girl was 3 months old we found out that she had a severe poster tongue-tie. We had it reversed but it was too late to restart breastfeeding’ E, Muma to baby Georgia

How does a baby get a tongue-tie?

Tongue-tie is most often hereditary. It is more likely to be found in males than females and more often that not if a Father is tongue-tie, the children have a higher likelihood of being tongue-tie as well. Since there is such a strong genetic link there may be physical similarities in family members who were not treated such as postures of the lips, habits of speech and shapes of the nose and face.

Tongue-tie can also occur together with other congenital conditions such as cleft palate or lip, severe hearing loss and cerebral palsy. That is not to say that your baby has one of these conditions if they are diagnosed with tongue-tie, but it is rather a symptom of these conditions.

How is it Treated?

With early diagnosis, treatment is quite simple and can be done in the doctor’s office in a matter of minutes. The most common technique is called snipping, or frenulotomy in medical terms. This involves simply cutting the strip of skin under the tongue and allowing it to become elongated and thinner as it literally “frees” the tongue from being anchored. It’s so simple in fact that most babies can begin to feed immediately after the procedure.  Within a week after the procedure has been done this will improve the baby’s ability to suck, improve the efficiency of latching and prevents the severe pain experienced earlier on by the mother from breastfeeding a tongue-tie baby. Of those babies who have been given the procedure, 57 % of Mumas noticed an immediate improvement in breastfeeding, and 80% after only 24 hours.

‘My baby’s tongue-tie was picked up when he was 5 days old. We had it reversed immediately and within 4 days after the procedure breastfeeding felt better than it ever had with my two older children.’ J, Muma to baby Jack

Tongue-tie is a real condition that needs to be taken seriously and included in infant medical checks. If we want women to be able to breastfeed and have their babies thrive it is imperative that medical professionals see this as a real and very treatable condition. There is no reason for any baby or parent to ever suffer from it’s effects. Too often the condition is ignored or dismissed. In the vast majority of cases, it won’t go away on it’s own and it is something parents of newborns need to be aware of and diligent about it’s diagnosis. It is slowly being more and more recognised and treated, but not quickly enough. Delay in treatment can have serious effects and is absolutely unnecessary in our day and age. So speak up if you suspect your baby may suffer from tongue-tie and if you’re ignored seek a second opinion. One baby suffering today is one baby too many.

In Urban Hatch, we want to provide you with expert guidance and ongoing support through your entire journey to parenthood. Check out HATCH™ , our online prenatal and postnatal course and support programme!

 

Similar Resources

Let’s Connect

@urban_hatch | #urbanhatch
  • by urban_hatch 5 months ago
    Check out our blog post on the crazy things that happen to your hormones during postpartum (they actually reach levels
  • by urban_hatch 4 months ago
    How long should you wait to cut the cord? ⁠ ⁠ We'd say at least a full minute (unless there's
  • by urban_hatch 5 months ago
    Did you feel satisfied, sad, proud, guilty or all/none of the above about returning to work after maternity leave?⁠ ⁠
  • by urban_hatch 5 months ago
    We all have expectations. And for decades, mainstream perceptions and education around birth and babies teach us to plan and
  • by urban_hatch 4 months ago
    What do you wish you would have known? Check out our online pre and postnatal course Hatch™ for the real
  • by urban_hatch 5 months ago
    No one hustles like a working mama Curious…did you feel comfortable telling your manager and/or team: "Hey I'll be taking
  • by urban_hatch 5 months ago
    What was the best thing your partner did during labour?⁠ ⁠ :  @danicadonnelly 
  • by urban_hatch 5 months ago
    Question for dads: what was your favourite way of bonding with your baby in the early months? Tag a dad
  • by urban_hatch 4 months ago
    If you're looking for a prenatal course that speaks to your partner, we've got it This little gem is from
  • by urban_hatch 4 months ago
    Hands up if you've ever felt guilty for working too much or ashamed of not working enough ⁠‍♀️⁠ ⁠ It's
  • by urban_hatch 4 months ago
    Yes What expecting mums and dads need to hear is...⁠ ⁠ that nipples might bleed and crotches might sting, but
  • by urban_hatch 5 months ago
    Naps take on a whole new meaning with little ones...⁠ ⁠ ‍♀️overtired babies refusing their nap⁠ ⏲️the struggle of planning
  • by urban_hatch 4 months ago
    Small things can make a big difference in laying the right sleep foundations for your baby, especially if you're mindful
  • by urban_hatch 4 months ago
    Breastfeeding is natural. That doesn't mean it's instinctive or easy. Your experience is valid, mama. More truths and tips about
  • by urban_hatch 5 months ago
    Breastfeeding while baby-wearing, who's done it? ‍♀️ If you think people stare when you breastfeed in public, try doing it
  • by urban_hatch 5 months ago
    What if planning is not the best way of feeling ready for birth? What if, instead, we focus on preparing
  • by urban_hatch 4 months ago
    Breaks my heart to know that some mums-to-be might not get to have their partners physically by their side for
  • by urban_hatch 5 months ago
    The active phase of labour is where things often get tricky for partners, too...Here's our advice for partners in this
  • by urban_hatch 4 months ago
    Some days they feel like cracks. Some days, they're tiger marks. Embrace it all, mama...you're fragile and fierce and that's
  • by urban_hatch 5 months ago
    Simple affirmations can be so powerful if they hit the right note ✨ We've hand-picked 16 of our favourite bump

Learn. Laugh. Love.

Enter your email and you’ll get expert antenatal advice, plus invitations to free online events.