Once your baby is properly latched onto your breast, his or her tongue has to do a lot of work in order to nurse. Your baby’s tongue must move forward past his or her bottom lip, cup your breast and express the milk through vigorous sucking. Some babies experience difficulty in moving their tongue as far out as they need due to a tongue or lip tie, which can cause pain and a decreased milk supply.
What is a Tongue Tie and Lip Tie?
Under your baby’s tongue is a band of tissue called the frenulum that connects the underside of the tongue to the bottom of the mouth. If the frenulum is too thick, too tight or too short, it prevents the baby’s tongue from moving freely. This can cause problems with breastfeeding during infancy and speech difficulties as your baby grows.
Similarly, if the frenulum located under the upper lip is too short or too tight, your baby may have a lip tie.
Because they can be difficult to diagnose, tongue and lip ties may go unnoticed. Experts estimate that between four and 13 percent of babies are born with a tongue or lip tie.
How Tongue and Lip Ties Affect Breastfeeding
Tongue and lip ties can affect breastfeeding in a variety of ways. Your baby may not open his or her mouth wide enough due to the tight tissue, which causes the nipple to be in the incorrect position for nursing. This can result in your baby gumming or sucking directly on your nipple, causing pain, cracking and/or bleeding. A lip tie can also cause nipple pain because it may prevent your baby’s lips from flaring properly around your breast during latching.
If your baby isn’t able to protrude his or her tongue far enough, he or she will not be able to suck efficiently. Because your body makes milk based on supply and demand, this can result in a decreased milk supply over time. Additionally, if your baby isn’t able to latch properly due to a tongue or lip tie, he or she may slip off of your breast easily, which can frustrate both you and your little one during your nursing sessions.
How to Determine if Your Baby Has a Tongue or Lip Tie
Pediatricians, nurses and midwives often miss diagnosing tongue ties at birth. Look for these common signs of tongue or lip ties in your baby:
- Milk dribbling from the side of the mouth during breastfeeding
- Noisy sucking
- No upward movement of the tongue to the roof of the mouth during crying
Because tongue ties are severe enough to cause breastfeeding problems in one-quarter of babies, lactation consultants are trained to spot tongue ties and can help diagnose one if your pediatrician missed the problem.
Different Treatment Options for Tongue and Lip Ties
Many tongue and lip ties aren’t severe enough to cause problems with nursing, speech and eating. In these cases, no treatment is usually necessary. If your baby is having difficulty nursing, is failing to gain weight or if your milk supply has decreased as a result, there are several treatment options to consider.
This is the most common treatment for tongue and lip ties. A pediatric dentist or pediatric ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialist can perform a frenectomy. A laser is typically used during the procedure, though some dentists and doctors prefer using scalpels or scissors. During the procedure, the frenulum will be cut, allowing the tongue to move freely. To prevent the frenulum from reattaching, the dentist or doctor will give you instructions on massaging the cut frenulum for several weeks after the procedure.
Along with a frenectomy, many lactation consultants recommend chiropractic therapy. A chiropractor who specializes in cranio-sacral therapy can help align your baby’s neck and spine properly and relieve tight muscles, which can aid in successful breastfeeding. Make sure that the chiropractor has extensive experience in working with babies before trying this type of therapy.
A lactation consultant or lactation group can help your baby to latch properly after a frenectomy. If your baby’s tongue tie doesn’t need treatment, a consultant can help you learn how to position your baby properly to relieve nipple pain.
While your baby learns to nurse properly, it’s important to keep up your milk supply. Using a breast pump for five to 10 minutes after nursing can help increase your milk supply. Most insurance plans cover breast pumps free of charge.
By completing a simple form, Ameda will take care of your paperwork and you will receive an award-winning Ameda double-electric breast pump, free through your insurance, to assist with maintaining your milk supply. With the right treatment and care, babies who have tongue or lip ties can learn to breastfeed properly, saving you from nursing in pain and helping your little one to grow and thrive.