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Breastfeeding Magazine

Breastfeeding a Tongue-Tied Baby (and Treatment Options That Work!)


Tongue Tied Babies and Breastfeeding 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 will not be able to move their tongue around like you are able to do in the mirror. The range of motion they can accomplish will depend on the extent of the tongue tie. In general, they will not be able to stick their tongue beyond their gums, making it difficult to do anything that requires range of motion outside of the mouth.

Breastfeeding Struggles with a Tongue Tied Baby

tongue tied babyThe 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.

There are 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

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.

Related Articles:

Frustrated? It may be that your baby is tongue tied and having trouble breastfeeding. How to know and what to do about it.