A Brief Overview on Tongue Ties and How They Impact Breastfeeding
Tongue ties might sound like this is a blog post on when your baby will learn to speak, but these ties are physical, located in some babies’ mouths, and have an impact on their ability to suckle. In this post, we’re going to mention some of the most common ties, briefly describe them and the ways that they can be corrected, so that you can speak to your baby’s pediatrician and seek proper medical guidance.
Tongue Ties (also spelled tongue-ties), are medically referred to as ankyloglossia. Babies with tongue tie have an overly tight bit of tissue that connects their tongue to the bottom of their mouth. This tissue is called their lingual frenulum.
How Tongue Ties Can Impact Breastfeeding
To understand how ankyloglossia can impact breastfeeding, we need to look at how a baby physically suckles or drinks. It’s a bit more than just sucking on a nipple or a bottle nipple. Babies use their tongue when latching. First, they stick their tongue out to help bring more of your nipple and areola into their mouths. Then babies use their tongue to maintain a seal while suckling.
When babies have an overly tight lingual frenulum it can inhibit their ability to extend their tongue. This means that babies with tongue ties might have trouble both latching, and then maintaining that latch. Babies often grow irritable as they grow hungry. Some babies accidentally take in more air as they attempt to latch again and again, which can cause reflux.
Overtime they may even refuse the breast. Moms of babies with tongue ties can experience painful latching, and engorgement if the baby is not able to empty the breast.
What’s a Mom to Do?
The first thing is to speak with your child’s healthcare provider. Regardless of the course of action you decide to take, you’ll want their help to monitor your baby’s weight and ensure that they are receiving the proper nutrition. Next, you’ll want to contact a lactation professional. If your child is not emptying your breasts, a lactation professional can provide you with options like pumping, and help you maintain your milk supply until your child can nurse.
The swiftest correction is called a frenotomy (also sometimes called frenulotomy). It’s a mild surgical procedure that attempts to loosen the tissue which is inhibiting your baby from moving their tongue. Newborns can generally tolerate this procedure without local anesthesia, and it heals in a few days. Older children may require local anesthesia but tolerate the procedure fairly well. There is a minor risk for infection with this procedure.
One study suggests that 40-75% of babies born with tongue ties will learn to breastfeed without intervention such as a frenotomy.
Many professionals may suggest a frenotomy, as the earlier the procedure is performed, the better it is tolerated by the child, it’s relatively quick and well tolerated. But this is not the only course of action. You may decide that you would like to try other strategies to help your child nurse and that is okay. The important thing is to do your research, talk to the professionals and make the right decision for your baby.
It varies from baby to baby but some babies with tongue ties can bottle feed with no issues. Bottle nipples do not require the same tongue action for a baby to suckle. If this is the case for your baby, you may decide to give pumping a shot. We recommend speaking with a lactation consultant to find your proper breast pump flange size, work out a pumping schedule, and discuss breast pump basics like how to store your milk.
Using a nipple shield to help your infant nurse helps in two ways. First, the shield helps to shape your nipple and better enable your baby to draw it into their mouth. By aiding in the latch, the nipple shield also helps to shield the mom from painful, sore nipples. These nursing aids come in different sizes and can sometimes be tricky to use if you are not familiar with them. Using them in the guidance of a lactation professional is your best ticket for successful nursing with nipple shields.
In a recent podcast interview we spoke with Bri Taggart of Breezy Babies. Bri pointed out that parents can use simple massage techniques to help strengthen babies jaw muscles and in combination with other techniques or treatments help a baby learn to nurse. You can listen to the full episode of the podcast here.
Our next blog post will dive into the world of lip ties, the cousin to tongue ties.