There are many issues that can affect how well your baby latches on when breastfeeding, and tongue tie in babies is one of them. Tongue tie or ankyloglossia as it's also called is fairly common in newborns, and impacts a babies tongue movement.
We've put together everything you need to know about tongue-tie from what is is, the signs and symptoms to the treatments available with expert advice from Midwife Pip.
What is tongue tie and why does it occur in some babies?
A tongue tie is where the lingual frenulum, aka the skin that connects a baby’s tongue to the bottom of their mouth, is shorter than it needs to be causing a restriction in the tongue’s mobility making it more difficult for a baby to move their tongue and feed effectively.
It is not certain why it occurs in some babies and not others, but it is thought to run in families and be more common in baby boys than girls.
What are the signs and symptoms of tongue-tie in babies?
A baby who has a tongue tie may have issues regardless of whether they are breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Some of the signs of tongue-tie include:
• Nipple damage, soreness, and pain when breastfeeding
• Recurrent breast engorgement, mastitis or blocked milk ducts and blisters
• Breastfeeding difficulties with latch and attachment, slipping off the breast or head bobbing at the breast
• Clicking noises, lip smacking, coughing, or choking noises when feeding
• Issues with weight gain in baby
• Symptoms of wind, colic or reflux
• Difficulty creating a seal around a bottle teat when feeding and dribbling out milk
What complications can it lead to?
Some babies may have no issues with a tongue tie, whereas for others it may lead to complications.
If a baby is not able to latch and therefore unable to adequately feed due to tongue tie, they may have issues gaining weight that could result in malnourishment if not treated.
Some tongue ties may result in speech and language issues later or difficulty eating certain foods as they grow.
How can I tell my baby is latched correctly?
If baby appears comfortable and calm when feeding, it's unlikely there are any issues with their latch. Other signs that your baby is latched properly and that they're getting enough milk include:
• Visible swallowing
• Seeing milk either in their mouth after they've finished feeding or dripping out of their mouth
• Appearing relaxed and sleepy at the end of each feed
• Gaining a healthy amount of weight
• Frequent feeds (8-12 in 24 hours)
• Regular wet nappies and healthy stools
What should breastfeeding feel like?
One of the first signs of tongue-tie is pain during breastfeeding, as breastfeeding your baby should never hurt or feel painful. Instead, it should feel more like a pressure or pulling sensation. While it might feel a little uncomfortable at first on your nipples, it should never cause nipple damage or pain. If it does start to cause pain, seek help from your midwife or lactation consultant without hesitation.
How is tongue-tie treated?
Whilst treatment is not always necessary, if a tongue tie does need treatment, it is a quick, simple procedure called a tongue tie division.
A tongue tie division involves cutting the tight skin connecting the tongue and bottom of the baby’s mouth to release the restriction. Local anaesthetic can be used for young babies as there are very few nerve endings in the area, but for older babies with teeth, a general anaesthetic may be required.
The procedure only takes a few seconds, bleeding is minimal and your baby can feed immediately afterwards.
Lorna White has been a Digital Writer for Mother&Baby since 2020. She has a keen interest in a range of topics, from potty training and nutrition to baby names and maternity fashion.