The Problems, Signs And Treatments of a Tongue-Tied Baby
Doc Smitty on one of the most common causes for a nursing problem
“Your baby needs surgery in order to breastfeed correctly.”
Those probably won’t be the words that are said, but it might be the message that you hear.
Breastfeeding can be a tricky thing and many different problems can lead to a poor latch or such. One of the most blamed is tongue-ties. We should be careful not to attribute every nursing problem as a tongue tie because it can lead to unnecessary procedures, stress and a lot of time wasted on the wrong things instead of finding the real reason.
A tongue-tie is an attachment of skin and/or muscle below the tongue that restricts the movement of the tongue. Defining what is too tight is often very tricky and often two providers will disagree as to whether a tongue-tie is present.
Tongue-ties can lead to three problems:
1. Difficulty with breastfeeding - Tongue-ties can lead to poor or painful latching.
2. Difficulty with speech - Certain sounds require free movement of the tongue but children often accommodate and are able to speak clearly despite having a tongue-tie.
3. Difficulty with kissing - Another activity that requires free movement of the tongue. Although you might find them being a terrible kisser a benefit as a teen-parent, they might disagree.
A closely related issue is the upper-lip tie, where the upper lip is attached to the area between the front two teeth. Although it can, this is much less likely to cause problems and it’s unclear if removing the attachment has any benefit besides the cosmetics and moving it out of the way for braces to fix your child’s teeth.
When you or your doctors are checking your baby, there are a few signs that might points toward a tongue-tie:
- Obviously short attachment that inserts near the tip of the tongue
- Tongue never passes out past the lower teeth or lips
- Notched appearance of the tongue due to the attachment (like a heart)
If your baby is having breastfeeding problems and there is agreement that it is because of a tongue tie, treatment involves a simple procedure to either clip or laser the attachment. Most ENTs and dentists perform this procedure in the office and the baby goes right back to nursing immediately (often moms report feeling a difference right away).
Making the decision to treat an older child with tongue-tie is usually more difficult. The symptoms and benefit of treatment are not as clear and there are often other means of treatment, such as speech therapy, that can be tried first.
About The Author
Justin Smith is a pediatrician and the Medical Advisor for Digital Health for Cook Children's in Fort Worth, Texas. He has an active community on both Facebook and Twitter as @TheDocSmitty and writes weekly for Cook Children's checkupnewsroom.com. His interest in communications started when he realized that his parents were relying more on the internet for medical information. He believes that strategic use of social media and technology by pediatricians to connect with families can deepen their relationship and provide a new level of convenience for both of their busy lifestyles. Dr. Smith’s innovative pediatric clinic, a pediatric clinic “designed by you,” is set to open in Trophy Club in 2017.