You may have heard of tongue-tie (ankyloglossia), but most of us know little about it unless it affects our child or someone we know. Tongue-tie is the name given to the birth defect in which a small tight piece of skin has formed between the floor of the mouth and the tongue.
Tongue-tie is most commonly picked up through problems with breast feeding. A baby with tongue-tie can struggle to latch on, the nipple when feeding, cause pain when feeding or slip off the nipple when trying to feed. This is because babies with tongue-tie are unable to open their mouths wide enough to latch on to both the nipple and the breast tissue. Successful breastfeeding also involves instinctively placing the tongue over the lower gums, without this mechanism the nipples are not protected from the gums and they can quickly become sore. A baby with tongue-tie is unable to cover their gums as their tongue cannot reach very far. If your nipples are sore and you have bleeding or ulcers, then it is worth investigating further to see if your little one may have tongue-tie.
Problems with breastfeeding not only mean that the mother suffers from painful nipples, but it can also mean that a baby does not gain weight quickly. It can also affect the bonding process between mother and child. If you suspect that your little one may have tongue-tie then it is important that you speak to your GP, health visitor or midwife immediately. A simple procedure can be carried out that will divide the tongue-tie and allow you to feed your baby.
Even if you have a lot of experience with children, please do not assume that you will be able to detect a tongue-tie just by looking at the tongue. To the untrained eye, a tongue-tie is not always visible.
Bottle-fed babies with tongue-tie are often hard to spot, perhaps because a bottle teat does not feel pain and discomfort. However, restricted tongue movement may mean that your baby is unable to seal the teat properly and they may leak milk out of the corner of their mouth or take in a lot of air when they feed.
Tongue-tie that does not affect feeding is often not treated or may even go undetected. It is only when a child starts to speak that a speech therapist may pick up on the reason behind their difficulties. If tongue-tie is affecting a child’s speech then they will need to have treatment to resolve the issue.
Tongue-tie is not always easy to diagnose. Even with feeding problems there could be another cause. For this reason it is important to see an oral specialist as soon as possible. If your child has any difficulty feeding then it is definitely worth investigating further. Feeding problems will not only affect their weight gain but will also have an impact on energy, sleep and development. It is much better to sort these things early on than to struggle on for some time. If you do suspect tongue-tie then discuss the possibility with your health visitor or doctor. If you have been breastfeeding, you may decide to express your milk instead and swap to bottle. Bottle fed babies with tongue-tie will still struggle to feed, take a long time feeding and may even fall asleep regularly at the bottle through exhaustion. They may also be colicky and suffer from trapped wind. At least your nipples will be spared though.
It is important to remember that tongue-tie is easy to treat and once it has been resolved will cause no long term problems or issues. If your child is struggling to feed, please don’t struggle on regardless. There may be an underlying issue. Seek help immediately.
This was taken from my book ‘The Natural Book: A gentle guide to conception, pregnancy, birth & beyond‘ which was co-authored by Samantha Quinn of Mumma Love Organics and was published by Green Books in February 2017.
Freelance writer, author and poet