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What is tongue-tie and how to manage it

What is tongue-tie and how to manage it

OK, let’s get one thing straight – tongue-tie is nothing to worry about. It’s easy to deal with, and there’s plenty of support out there for new moms and babies who are suffering. And because we know new moms can experience information overload when it comes to things like this, we’re untangling the myths around tongue-tie and explaining what it actually is, how do you know if your baby has it and what you can do to deal with it. 

 What actually is a tongue-tie (aka ankyloglossia)?

Tongue-tie is when a baby’s tongue movement is restricted by a membrane (frenulum) that connects the tongue to the mouth, which can cause trouble for your little one when feeding. It means it might be a little tight, and they don’t have as much movement available to them in their mouths. 

There are two different types of tongue-tie:

  • Anterior (at the front of the tongue)
  • Posterior (at the back of the tongue)

Some babies who have tongue-tie won’t seem bothered by it. But in others, it can restrict the tongue's movement, making it harder to breastfeed or bottle-feed. 

How to spot tongue tie?

One of the most stressful things about new motherhood is all the unknowns. Why are they crying as if the world is ending, why are they not putting on weight, why are they awake at every hour that God sends? While there’s no such thing as normal when it comes to your little one, there are some things that might mean they have tongue-tie. Here’s a long (sorry!) list of things to look out for. 

When you’re breastfeeding

  • A small gape, so it feels like the baby is biting/grinding
  • Breast refusal - your baby seems unable to latch onto the breast
  • Difficulty in latching
  • Unsettled behavior during feeds
  • Frequently coming off the breast or slipping back to the nipple
  • Frequent or long feeds
  • Poor weight gain or excessive early weight loss
  • Clicking noises while feeding
  • Colic/wind/hiccoughs
  • Reflux (baby vomits and/or is miserable after feeds)

If you’re bottle-feeding

  • Is very slow to take a bottle
  • Needs to be fed very often to get enough milk
  • Dribbles a lot during feeds
  • Tends to push the bottle teat out
  • Chokes on feeds even when you slow the feed down
  • Can only manage a teat that has a very slow flow

Some other things to look out for

  • If they’re unable to extend their tongue fully
  • Has a tongue with a heart-shaped appearance on the tip
  • Has difficulty lifting their tongue or moving it from side to side
  • Difficulties with taking solids
  • Speech problems in older babies

How to treat tongue-tie

Common tongue-tie treatment is tongue-tie division, a straightforward and safe procedure that involves cutting the frenulum. It’s thought to be almost painless, and most parents say their baby’s feeding improves after a tongue-tie division, and many find it resolves the problem completely.

Some parents find the thought of cutting anything in their baby’s mouth scary. Others feel that the brief distress is worth the long-term improvements. Depending on the severity, though, there are some other ways to deal with tongue-tie:

  • Trying out good feeding positions such as the rugby hold or the koala
  • Using nipple shields
  • Paced bottle-feeding techniques

Whether to have a tongue-tie divided is a personal one, and different parents will make different decisions – there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Every tongue-tie is different too, and the range of issues it causes can vary from very mild to severe. So how much the tongue-tie is affecting feeding and your life with your baby might influence your decision.

Untangling the myths 

Don’t let yourself get tangled up in information and advice when it comes to tongue-tie. If you think your baby might have a tongue-tie, the most important thing to do is see a specialist for a proper diagnosis and advice on treating it. Like most things, it’s nothing to worry about when you deal with it properly.