A tongue tied baby can grow up to have speech problems and struggle to do things that other children do naturally. While you have to think about your child’s future when deciding how to handle this issue, you also have to think about your baby’s ability to thrive right now. It is difficult for some lip-tied or tongue-tied babies to breastfeed properly, and when they do succeed it can be very tiring. Some tongue-tied babies struggle to get the nourishment they need and may end up underweight and extremely fussy.
What Is Tongue Tie?
Stand in front of a mirror and lift up your tongue. You will notice tissue underneath your tongue, which connects it to the floor of your mouth. Notice how you can move the unconnected portion of your tongue around, including sticking it out of your mouth and wriggling it around. You can also rub it over all of your teeth, as long as you are not tongue tied yourself.
A tongue tied infant has the same construction, but the tissue under the tongue is connected too far toward the tip of the tongue. In some cases, the tissue connects the very tip of the tongue down to the floor of the mouth. This tissue tends to be very short, preventing regular movement of the tongue. (A lip tie is similar, but instead of the tongue, it is the lip that is connected too far.)
A baby with this condition may not be able to move their tongue around like you are able to do in the mirror. They may or may not be able to stick it out. The range of motion they can accomplish will depend on the extent of the tongue tie. In general, they are not easily able to stick their tongue beyond their gums, making it difficult to do anything that requires range of motion outside of the mouth.
Why Are We Seeing An Increase in Tongue-Ties?
There has probably been no actual increase in the number of tongue-ties. It is just an increase in breastfeeding awareness that has made it seem that way.
Here is why:
As formulas evolved and marketed as a safe substitute for breast milk, manufacturers began to advertise directly to physicians in the early 1900s. By the 1930s, legal rules changed so that formula manufacturers could only directly advertise to physicians (not consumers!) which helped them develop a positive relationship between doctors and the formula companies (Stevens, 2009) as manufacturers offered incentives to doctors to promote their products. By the 1940s and 1950s, doctors had all but convinces most moms that formula was actually preferred “scientifically” over breast milk and safe substitute. Consequently, breastfeeding experienced a steady decline until the 1970s (Fomon, 2001). When there was a baby with a tongue-tie, they simply used that as another reason to just wean to formula from a bottle so that it is not as much of an issue.
After many years of declining breastfeeding, there are more and more moms becoming educated on the potential harms of formula. Research shows increasing trends of formula-fed children developing atopy, diabetes, and childhood obesity (Gaynor, 2003; Wolf, 2003) among other things. The “Breast is Best” initiative has helps to encourage moms to at least TRY to breastfeed and as a result, the breastfeeding babies with tongue-ties are now needing them addressed.
Breastfeeding Struggles with a Tongue Tied Baby
The effect of a tongue tie or lip tie on breastfeeding be be heartbreaking. The baby often does not open his mouth widely, thus not latching on to the breast correctly or at the correct angle. Tongue-tie babies must push their tongues beyond their gums and lips in order to breastfeed correctly but this is very difficult for them.
The tongue’s job is to grab the nipple and areola, draw it into the mouth, and hold it in the correct position so milk can flow into the mouth. If this is not done correctly, then the baby will struggle to get the milk they need while feeding. If the baby is unable to do this at all, then they may not be able to breastfeed and will fail to thrive if something is not done to treat the problem.
Often, a mom whose baby has a tongue tie may start out with good milk production, but because the baby’s tongue is not stimulating her breasts enough, her supply decreases and issues arise like poor weight gain in the baby.
There are other cases where a tongue tied baby is able to breastfeed correctly, and get the nourishment they need to thrive. The problem is that they have to work harder to do this than most other babies, and it is very tiring. They may need to breastfeed for longer periods of time, and they may get tired before they get enough milk to feel satisfied.
In some cases, incorrect breastfeeding form can affect the health of your nipples as well. Many tongue tied babies will use their lips of gums to grip the nipple, and that can be painful and may cause damage over time.
Treating a Tongue Tie
Some moms can breastfeed a baby with a tongue tie without much of a problem. However, more often than not, you will need to address it and seek treatment to be able to breastfeed and maintain the milk production that your baby needs.
If you suspect that your baby may be tongue tied, it is important to have them evaluated by a doctor. Allow the doctor to check for the condition and determine how severe the tongue tie may be. This is the only way to ensure that this is the problem preventing your baby from breastfeeding correctly. If another problem is found, then your approach to treating the problem may be quite different than it would be with a true tongue tie condition.
If it is determined that your baby is tongue-tied you will have to make a decision on treatment. There are surgeries that can correct the problem, but you may have to see a specialist to have the right procedure performed. This not only helps your baby feed correctly in the early months and years, but it also reduces the chances of them developing speech problems as they start to speak. It also ensures they are able to do everything other growing children can do as they get older.
If you decide that you do not want your baby to have an operation, then you may have to learn to work with your baby on breastfeeding. You may need to bottle feed at least partially, especially if your child is unable to breastfeed long enough to get the nourishment that they need to thrive. You may need to have your child checked regularly for weight and overall health, just to make sure they are getting what they need to grow healthfully.
Not all tongue tied babies have to go through surgery or tongue clipping to successfully feed. It is easier for a tongue tied baby to learn to bottle feed than breastfeed, but there are tongue tied babies able to breastfeed successfully. It comes down to having the evaluation to determine the extent of the condition. You have to determine how efficient your baby is able to be while breastfeeding, so you ensure they are getting the nourishment they need to thrive.
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