Breastfeeding a Baby with a Tongue-Tie 

Did you know that something was not quite right from the first time your baby began breastfeeding your newborn?

Was nursing always extremely painful? Was your baby spitting up everywhere and wanting to eat every hour? This is exactly what happened to me. 

I was determined to find a cause for my baby’s feeding issue so that we could continue our breastfeeding journey pain-free.

I knew something wasn’t right but there was no mention of a tongue tie from doctors, nurses, or even lactation consultants! At the hospital, none of these healthcare providers performed an oral mouth exam of my baby so how could they tell me if something was wrong?

As a new mom, there is SO much to learn about newborns. Since every baby is different, it’s impossible to learn it all.

We trust in our healthcare providers to give us this information, but unfortunately they’re not always as thorough as we hope they should be.

After looking in his mouth, I noticed his tongue looked like a heart. That reminded me of something from speech therapy school, I believe he had a tongue-tie.

From there I knew that I needed to consult with a lactation consultant to get to the bottom of this.

Related Post: The Best Vitamins for Breastfeeding Moms

What is a Tongue-tie? 

A tongue-tie is when the baby’s tongue tissues, or membrane connecting to the bottom of the mouth, is too thick, too short, or malformed. The fancy word for a tongue tie is Ankyloglossia but we will just say tongue-tie. 

Tongue-tie does not happen in all babies. Occasionally, the tissue will stay attached causing a tongue-tie.

via Mayo Clinic

A tongue-tie happens in utero when the tongue is being formed around 11 weeks.

Mama, this is not your fault. Let me say it again for the Mama that feels all the burden on her shoulders! THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT! I have been there on the floor crying because my baby is not eating well, feeling like I did something to cause this, but it is just a natural occurrence in some babies.

The good news about tongue ties is that they CAN be fixed. If you catch it early enough, you can hopefully correct your breastfeeding journey and give you and your baby a better experience.

What is a Lip-tie? 

Lip-ties are a medical condition that occurs when there isn’t enough space between your baby’s upper and lower gums. This lip tie can limit the movement of the lips to make feeding more difficult.

Your baby will have a harder time flaring out their lip to get a great latch on your breast. When your baby is latched correctly, their lips should look like fish lips flared out on your breast. 

What is a Buccal-tie?

A Buccal (sounds like “buckle”) “cheek-tie” is a tight attachment from the cheek to the sides of the gum tissues on the side where the premolar teeth will be located. If you pull your child’s cheek out it will look like the sail on a sailboat.

This is the least common of all the ties. 

How Do You Know If Your Baby has a Tongue-tie? 

When you are not a medical professional it is hard to tell if your baby has a tongue-tie. Please do not post pictures online and ask, “Does this look like a tongue or lip-tie?” Sure, it can give you some understanding, but the final decision should be from a healthcare provider who has seen this thousands of times before.

The provider needs to look in your baby’s mouth, see how they suck on their finger, and see how functional their tongue is. They will lift their tongue with both fingers to make sure they do not have a posterior tongue-tie which is hidden at the back of their tongue. 

Let’s take a look at the signs and symptoms of a MOM with a baby who has a tongue-tie: 

  • Sleep deprivation (baby not able to nurse so they compensate by nursing more often, including at night) 
  • Incomplete breast drainage, plugged ducts, engorgement 
  • Lipstick-shaped, cracked, blistered, bleeding nipples 
  • Discomfort while nursing, nipple shield required 
  • Baby prefers one breast over other 
  • Extended feeds over 30 minutes 
  • Compromised milk supply 
  • Thrush 
  • Mastitis 

The following are signs and symptoms of a BABY with a tongue-tie: 

  • Gagging, choking on milk or popping off nipple to gasp for air 
  • Fatigue; falls asleep feeding; wakes often to feed (every 1-2 hours) 
  • Latch issues (shallow, pops off breast, bottle, paci easily) 
  • Airway: snoring noisy breathing, congested, mouth breathing 
  • Reflux, spits up a lot, gassy, colic, fussy, hiccups 
  • Clicking/smacking sound while nursing 
  • Excessive drooling 
  • Lip/sucking blisters 
  • Poor weight gain 

Please note that just because you or your baby has one of these symptoms does not mean that your baby has a tongue and/or lip-tie. However, it is always good to talk to your pediatrician or to see a pediatric dentist that specializes in tongue ties. 

How Do I Breastfeed with a Tongue-tied Baby?

You should still be able to breastfeed your baby with a tongue tie, but you might have to get a little creative. However, if your baby has a poor latch and you hear a clicking noise, they will be taking in a LOT of air.

Your baby needs to be burped more often or their belly will be in pain due to the extra air. 

A poor latch means they are not efficiently getting enough milk which can mean: 

  • Poor weight gain 
  • Not gaining weight 
  • Taking an hour to feed 
  • Wanting to eat every hour 

You can pump your breastmilk and feed your baby a bottle. I would encourage you to pace feed your baby.

When you pace feed your baby, they are sitting up in your arms and holding the bottle. You are trying to feed your baby slowly trying to mimic breastfeeding.

This is a great method if you are wanting to go back to feeding off your breast. 

You can also try a nipple shield that will help with a shallower latch. The Medela Contact Nipple Shield will help the nipple pain on your end until your baby’s tongue and/or lip is revised. 

Mama if you are so stressed and your milk supply is dropping, grab some formula from a store. You can do both breast milk and formula, or breastfeed and pump giving a bottle.

Just remember your supply is all dependent on supply and demand. If you do not pump and are supplementing with formula your supply will decrease. 

Related Post: 20 Pumping Hacks for Easy Breastfeeding

What to do to fix it? 

You will need to find a pediatric dentist that specializes in tongue, lip, and/or buccal-tie releases. It is ok to ask the dentist the following questions: 

● How many releases have you done? 

● Do you give out exercises? 

● Do I get a follow up visit? 

If a pediatric dentist says it is just a fad and/or “I do not believe in it”….RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN. It is ok to get a second or third opinion if you do not feel comfortable or if you do not like their answer to the above question. 

The pediatric dentist will do an oral mouth evaluation to tell you the degree (mild, moderate, or severe) of the tongue, lip and/or buccal tie.

Your baby will be swaddled, you will be asked to leave the room, and it should take no more than 2 minutes to release all ties. The dentist will bring your baby back to you to nurse or bottle feed. 

The pediatric dentist should provide you with a list of providers to help the release go as smoothly as possible. You should also see a lactation consultant that specializes in tongue-ties, a speech therapist to help with specific stretches, and a chiropractor or body worker to help release all the tension. 

Related Post: 13 Tips to Keep Baby Awake During Breastfeeding

Final Thoughts…. 

Do what is best for you Mama! I know personally this time can be hard, overwhelming and lonely. However, if you always dreamed of exclusively breastfeeding DO NOT give up. Seek help from a pediatric dentist, lactation consultant and a speech therapist ASAP! 

If your Mama heart feels like something is wrong. Do not brush it aside, go find answers and get referrals to specialists. 

I would love to support you with 1:1 support, if you feel your baby has a tongue-tie and want help with what to do next. Find answers in my new course “My Baby has a Tongue-tie, Now What?”

I lead you through step-by-step on what specialists to see, what to buy before the procedure, what a tongue-tie release looks like and healing afterward. Do not feel lonely and reach out for help! 

Author Bio: This article was written by Bethany Lovern of Breastfeeding Relief with Bethany. Bethany is a wife, Mama of two boys, Lactation Consultant, and Speech Therapist with a specialty in tongue-ties. 

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