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Trouble breastfeeding? Your baby could have a tongue tie

Posted on November 21st, 2023

Welcoming a newborn into the world is a time for families to celebrate. However, as with any new journey, unexpected challenges can pop up. 

One such challenge is when babies have a tongue-tie, which is a condition that can make breastfeeding difficult. 

Breastfeeding issues can be concerning, especially for new moms, who may feel at fault due to their inexperience. But their baby’s trouble latching on could have everything to do with a tongue tie, and simple solutions can fix that. 

Here’s what you need to know if your baby has a tongue tie and is struggling to breastfeed.

What is a tongue tie? 

A tongue tie is also known as ankyloglossia. It’s a relatively common condition that occurs when the thin piece of tissue under a baby’s tongue (lingual frenulum) is shorter than usual and restricts the tongue’s movement. 

This restriction can make it difficult for babies to latch onto their mothers’ breasts properly and may lead to trouble getting enough milk, which can be distressing for both babies and their mothers.

Recognizing the signs of a tongue tie in your baby

If you suspect your baby may have a tongue-tie that’s causing breastfeeding difficulties, look for the following signs:

  • Heart-shaped tongue
  • Difficulty latching onto the breast properly
  • Nipple discomfort or pain
  • Poor weight gain in the baby 
  • Fussiness or irritability during feeding
  • Insufficient milk transfer during breastfeeding sessions

When to seek professional help 

If your baby is struggling to breastfeed and you notice any of these signs, you should talk to a lactation consultant or a pediatrician. These healthcare providers can diagnose the condition. Then, they can advise you on the best course of action to ensure your baby gets sufficient nutrition and care. 

If, however, you discover your baby has a tongue tie but your baby isn’t having breastfeeding issues, you do not need to take action. Tongue ties can sometimes resolve on their own as the frenulum stretches over time. Other issues, aside from tongue ties, can also cause breastfeeding difficulties. 

Explore alternatives to breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is generally recommended due to its significant health benefits. However, if your baby can’t breastfeed due to a tongue tie, you need to explore alternative feeding methods. 

Alternatives include using a breast pump to express milk and then feeding your baby with a bottle. Or you can use a specialized feeding device, such as a supplemental nursing system. That way, your baby continues to benefit from the nutritional content of breast milk for healthy growth and development.

You can also try using a breast shield during feedings. A breast shield can improve your baby’s latch and reduce nipple pain. 

Consider a frenectomy

In cases where the tongue-tie significantly hinders a baby’s ability to breastfeed, doctors may recommend a minor surgical procedure called a frenotomy, usually performed by pediatricians or ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists. 

A frenectomy is a quick and simple procedure during which a doctor snips a baby’s frenulum to release the restriction. That way, the baby can achieve a deeper latch on the breast and create a more efficient sucking action, which leads to better milk transfer and increased milk intake. 

Additionally, frenectomies can make breastfeeding more comfortable for mothers. Tongue-tied babies who’ve had frenectomies are less likely to cause nipple pain and damage resulting from an improper latch. Plus, effective milk removal from the breasts stimulates mothers’ milk supply, which increases their milk production over time. 

Frenectomies are generally well-tolerated by infants and don’t require general anesthesia. So parents don’t need to worry. Doctors usually perform frenectomies in an outpatient setting. 

Emotional support for parents

Dealing with a tongue-tied baby can be emotionally challenging for parents. Feelings of frustration, helplessness, and guilt are common. Parents should seek emotional support whether by talking to a trusted friend or family member, joining support groups, or seeking counseling if needed. 

Remember, you are not alone, and support is available to help you through this process. 

Long-term follow-up

After addressing the immediate feeding issues, you should schedule regular follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider to monitor your baby’s progress. Follow-ups ensure that any potential issues related to the tongue tie are addressed promptly, allowing for optimal growth and development.

Having a tongue-tied baby can pose initial challenges. But with the right resources and support, you can ensure your baby receives the nourishment they need to grow and thrive. 

Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website:

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