How Tongue Tie in Babies Can Affect Breastfeeding

If your baby has tongue tie, it may impact their ability to breastfeed - But there are solutions & options available! Here's what you should know.

What is Tongue Tie and How Does it Affect My Baby?

Tongue tie in babies is present at birth and usually caused by malformation of the frenulum, or the typically thin piece of tissue that connects your baby’s tongue to the bottom of his or her mouth. If your little one has a tongue tie, this piece of tissue is usually short, thick, and/or tight and prevents your baby from having the full range of movement with his or her tongue. While tongue tie can be severe, moderate, or even unnoticeable, most babies with this condition experience difficulty sticking their tongue out and many cannot properly grasp your nipple in their mouth when trying to breastfeed.

This is because nursing babies use their tongue to draw your nipple and part of your areola into their mouth when latching. Doing so creates a seal and allows your baby to effectively remove milk from your breast. Because tongue tie limits the movement and motion of your little one’s tongue, this condition often prevents him or her from being able to latch correctly. To compensate, your baby may try to suck harder – which can make breastfeeding painful for mamas – or he or she may not be able to latch at all, becoming frustrated and even eventually refusing to nurse.

Tongue tie can cause a variety of issues for both you and your little one, ranging from general irritability and extra emotional stress to painful blocked milk ducts and mastitis. Some of the most common problems associated with tongue tie in babies include:

  • Irritability, frustration, and frequent crying

  • Weight fluctuations or minimal weight gain

  • Refusal to nurse

Additionally, issues often experienced by moms of babies with tongue tie include:

  • Soreness and/or dry, cracked nipples

  • Low or decreased breast milk supply

  • Emotional stress

  • Discomfort while breastfeeding

  • Pain due to engorgement, blocked milk ducts, or even mastitis – all of which can occur if your baby is unable to properly drain the breasts

Because of the pain and difficulties often associated with nursing a baby with tongue tie, many mamas opt to wean from breastfeeding sooner than they would have preferred. Regardless of how long or short your breastfeeding journey may be, it is important to remember that it’s unique to you – every drop counts, so be proud of what you’ve been able to provide!

When it Comes to Tongue Tie in Babies, What are the Options?

If you suspect that your baby has a tongue tie, speak to your doctor and a certified lactation consultant right away. Discussing latching tips for breastfeeding with a lactation professional can help ensure your nursing technique is correct while ruling out any other issues that could be causing difficulties while breastfeeding. A lactation consultant may also suggest alternate positions or methods for nursing that may help reduce discomfort. If you continue to experience soreness, nipple shields can often help you breastfeed your little one if he or she is having latching issues due to tongue tie. Nipple shields should be used only under the guidance of a healthcare professional to ensure correct sizing and proper usage. You may also consider exclusively pumping for a short time, as this will help you maintain your milk supply, continue feeding your baby breast milk, and allow your nipples some time to heal.

Your doctor may suggest minor surgery to correct your baby’s tongue tie, which is often completed through a fairly simple, quick procedure. Oftentimes, surgery is only recommended if your baby’s tongue tie is preventing him or her from latching and nursing properly. While many moms understandably balk at the idea of their little one having a procedure so soon, the earlier that the tongue tie can be identified and resolved is always better. The procedure may result in some temporary soreness that could cause your baby to refuse to nurse for a short time, but using a breast pump allows you to express your breast milk. Overall, most moms notice an immediate difference in their baby’s ability to breastfeed after intervention – in fact, the Journal of Human Lactation reports that 80% of infants were feeding better within 24 hours of a tongue tie procedure.

If your little one has tongue tie, know that it’s okay! There are many options available for resolving tongue tie in babies and most effectively feeding him or her breast milk for as long as you choose. No matter how long you may choose to breast milk feed or what your experience may look like, you know what’s best for you and your little one.

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