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“Why is feeding so difficult? Why does my baby feed for such long periods? How come my baby is so frustrated when feeding? This feels exhausting”
These are some of the questions I asked myself every time my baby fed. I felt saddened that feeding my baby – which should be so simple – was such a struggle.
Finally, after weeks of frustration we had an answer! My baby had tongue tie.
What is tongue tie?
Tongue tie is where the strip of skin (frenulum) under the tongue is short, thick or tight, causing restricted movement anywhere on the tongue. It is normal for everyone to have this, but for some, if too restricted it can impact the lift and extension of the tongue, leading to issues with latch or transfer of milk when feeding. Later on in life it could also impact weaning and speech.
Tongue tie can impact the feeding journey of both breastfed and bottle-fed babies. 1 in 7 babies will have a tongue tie, however not all babies will be affected.
Signs to look out for
- Sucking blister – babies with tongue tie who are over compensating during feeding often have top lip friction, causing a blister.
- Two-toned tongue appearance – this is where milk builds up on the restricted area of the tongue as the tongue cannot use the pallet of the mouth to clean the milk coating off.
- Nipple pain and nipple trauma – where breastfed babies struggle with their latch or moving their tongue effectively whilst feeding, causing pain or damage to the nipple.
- Milk dribbling – both bottle and breastfed babies may experience a weak seal or suck, causing milk to dribble whilst feeding.
- Unsettled when feeding – babies may become frustrated and pull back during a feed, as well as seeming hungry all the time if they are not able to get what they need during each feed.
- Clicking noise when feeding – this sound may occur as the tongue snaps back with each suck, as baby is unable to keep the tongue extended for the duration of the feed.
- Wind and reflux – where babies have a weak seal, air can seep in whilst feeding, causing wind and reflux.
- Tired – babies with a tongue tie are often working harder to feed which can cause them to be tired.
We know tongue tie can cause many implications to babies such as impacting feeding, weaning, and speech, however there is also a psychological impact on the parents. Becoming a parent is life-changing and those early days can be overwhelming at times. Where babies are suffering with tongue tie, this can put added stress on parents during their feeding journey. Parents will try and work out the best techniques or bottles to use to help their baby improve their feeding experience.
As a parent myself who went through this with my son, I look back and think, it was one of the most stressful times of my life. I had a new baby to work out how to care for, I was sleep-deprived, and on top of that I had to try and learn the best technique to feed to make it less painful. Most days my husband and I would sit up for hours, researching how to improve our feeding experience. One night at 11pm, I sent him off to Boots to find nipple shields and formula. It was make-or-break that night whether I would continue breastfeeding. We eventually contacted a specialist who visited us within a few days and confirmed our son had tongue tie. What a relief!
I think my baby has tongue tie, where can I get support?
Midwife or Health Visitor
In the early days, you can contact a health professional to discuss what difficulties you may be facing. Your health professional will help to identify any feeding difficulties, and will refer or signpost you for further support if tongue tie is suspected.
If you attended any antenatal courses, you can reach out for further support.
Infant feeding support groups
Contact your local community feeding support group. These groups are for both bottle and breastfed babies.
You can reach out to someone local for support. To find a consultant in your area visit this website.
Association of Tongue Tie Practitioners
You can arrange to see a specialist to complete an assessment. You may wish to find someone who also specialises in infant feeding to ensure aftercare is provided. Visit this website to find a practitioner near you.
If tongue tie is identified, what can be done about it?
Treatment is not always needed, and in cases where your baby can feed without any problems, they may not need treatment. If their feeding is affected, treatment involves a simple procedure called tongue tie division.
This involves cutting the short, tight piece of skin connecting the underside of the tongue to the bottom of the mouth.
It’s a quick, simple and almost painless procedure that usually improves feeding straight away.
My baby recovered very quickly from having the division and, after a few weeks of re-establishing a feeding pattern, it became easier. Getting the support we needed made a massive improvement to my son’s feeding and my mental well-being. It has been nearly two years since his tongue tie was corrected and we are about to end our breastfeeding journey.
About the author
Franchise owner and instructor for Basking Babies Epping, Harlow & Loughton