Breastfeeding might be natural but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. It’s kind of like a ballet, involving both you and your baby. Several factors need to come together to make it all work. Breast milk supply, latching, hunger cues, schedule, are all factors in breastfeeding your baby.
In our last blog post we took a look at tongue ties and how they can affect a baby’s ability to breastfeed. In our mouths, there are pieces of tissue that help or impact our ability to move our tongue and lips. This piece of tissue is known as a frenulum. For tongue ties, click here. In this post we’re going to look at the other common tie, the lip tie, which involves the frenulum connecting your upper lip to your palette or gums.
What is a Lip Tie?
Now that we’ve taken care of our geography let’s get into what a lip tie is and what it can potentially mean for your baby. A lip tie is when this frenulum, or connective tissue between the lip and gum connects to the gums instead of higher up in the mouth. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it can limit the mobility of the upper lip.
It’s important to note here before going any further, that just because a baby’s frenulum is connected to their gums they might not be impacted. If you are curious, or have any questions at all please contact your healthcare provider, or a lactation professional for more information and guidance.
How Does a Lip Tie Impact Breastfeeding?
Let’s think of this in terms of latching. We’ve got a whole post on the subject here if you want to learn more. When a baby latches, they open their mouth, use their tongue to draw your nipple into their mouth, and then create a seal around your nipple with their lips. If the movement of either of their lips is limited, they may not be able to create the seal needed in order to properly latch.
Babies with lip ties have trouble latching. Because of this, they may have trouble gaining weight. They might fall asleep while nursing or become cranky as trying to nurse fatigues them. Alternatively, they might have trouble breathing while latching. You might hear a slight clicking noise as your baby suckles.
As your baby is not able to effectively empty your breasts, you might feel engorgement, experience clogged ducts which can eventually lead to mastitis. Other moms report a bit of pain while your baby tries to latch. Understandably this might leave you feeling tired, confused, and even frustrated. But there is help Mama, so take heart.
How to Feed a Baby with a Lip Tie:
The first thing is to get an evaluation to determine that this is in fact what is impacting your baby’s ability to nurse. Talk to this healthcare professional about lip ties and what your options are. Medical professionals can help explain all of the options that are available to you from surgery, to more wholistic options. We'll touch on some of the nonsurgical strategies below but highly suggest speaking with your pediatrician, and a lactation professional about them.
There are some things that you can try under the guidance of a lactation professional to help facilitate nursing. The biggest thing you can do for you and your baby is to keep trying. Continue to offer your breast and promote a deeper latch even if your baby is not able to empty your breast. Like anything else in life, breastfeeding takes practice for baby and mama. If you stop breastfeeding while trying to correct a lip tie, it can be difficult to pick it back up later.
As you continue to offer the breast to your baby, pump or hand express milk and try bottle feeding. Sometimes it’s easier for a baby with a lip tie to drink from a bottle.
Supplement with Formula:
Your milk supply might have decreased a bit. Breast milk is created by your body based on supply and demand. At first you may be advised to supplement with formula in order to provide your baby with the nutrition that they are not currently receiving. If you want to continue breastfeeding, pump milk every time you give your baby formula.
Some moms will hit their limit and choose to supplement with formula here and that is a valid choice. Fed is best. There are many ways to feed your baby, and the important thing is that they receive the proper nutrition for them to thrive.
Softening Your Breast and Nipple:
Babies need to be able to draw your nipple and part of your areola into their mouth in order to properly latch. If your breast is engorged, or your nipple is firm, this can inhibit his or her ability to latch. Your baby nuzzling your breast and licking your nipple is their natural attempt to soften your tissue and help them latch.
First, relieve any engorgement. You may do this by pumping, or you can try moving the fluid in your breast away from the nipple. Press and hold the tips of your fingers around your nipples until you can see dimples from your fingertips. You can also try this by gently squeezing your nipple between your thumb and index finger. Either method may take about a minute. Then try latching again.
You can help your baby draw more of your nipple deeper into their mouth for a better latch. A lactation expert can help you hold your baby in a manner to facilitate latching. Cradling their head, you want to allow them to open their mouth as much as possible. Some nursing positions allow for movement than others such as the football or cross cradle.
Often, the frenulum can be stretched through gentle massage. Seek the guidance of a trained expert like our friend Bri Taggart from Breezy Babies. Learn more about infant massage in this podcast, and then contact her for a consultation.