You want everything perfect for your new baby, but sometimes doctors may miss a tongue tie baby after you give birth. On that day, the instinctive reaction for most mothers is to count fingers and toes – all present? Good! Then they check ears and noses and tummies and heads and the rest of the precious bundle, head to toe. What new moms and even doctors often fail to check is inside the mouth, which is how many a tongue-tied baby is missed at birth.
How To Help A Tongue Tie Baby
In This Article:
- What You Need To Know About Tongue Ties
- What Is a Tongue Tie?
- Is a Tongue Tie Different From a Lip Tie?
- Will a Tongue Tie Cause Problems for the Baby?
- What About Mama?
- What Is the Tongue Tie Procedure Like?
- What Is Recovery Time Like from a Frenotomy?
- How Do You Know If Your Baby Needs the Surgery?
What You Need To Know About Tongue Ties
Unfortunately, tongue ties can present serious problems for both moms and kiddos if they aren’t dealt with correctly. Taking the right approach to tongue ties requires understanding what they are, what the drawbacks of not treating one are, and what you can do about it.
Once you have the information you need, you can make the correct call about a current tongue tie. Or, if you haven’t had your baby yet, you can make a plan to discuss it with your doctor or midwife before delivery. First, though, you need more information.
What Is a Tongue Tie?
A tongue tie is when a thin piece of membrane, called the frenulum, attaches the underside of the tongue to the lower gums. Doctors class tongue ties in various ways:
- 1st Class: Tie attaches to the tip of the tongue
- 2nd Class: Tie attaches to the middle of the tongue
- 3rd Class: Tie attaches to the back of the tongue
- 4th Class: No tie is present, but the tongue is still constrained
It’s important to note that tongue ties don’t increase in severity as the class number goes up. Instead, this rating system merely indicates where the frenulum attaches to the tongue.
It is also helpful to note that the location and class of the tongue tie don’t indicate how much trouble the baby will have breastfeeding. Some babies have a terrible time with a Class 4 tongue tie, with no visible “tie” or membrane. Other babies have the Class 1 tie that attaches to the very tip of the tongue and seems to constrain it mightily, but they breastfeed just fine with no effects on mother or baby.
Tongue ties also differ in terms of their thickness. While some are very thin pieces of material that only anchor the tongue to the floor of the mouth, others are thick and embed deeply in the gums. This also affects the results of a tongue tie and the ease with which you can treat it.
Is a Tongue Tie Different From a Lip Tie?
Many babies have no tongue tie, but they do have a problem with the upper lip. In this case, the lip is anchored to the top gums, which makes it harder for the baby to mold its mouth around a nipple. In some cases, a baby’s upper lip is so constrained that their mouth may change shape when they cry. The classes of lip tie are:
- 1st Class: No real attachment
- 2nd Class: Attachment to the gum tissue
- 3rd Class: Attachment to the location of future front teeth
- 4th Class: Attachment to the palate
As with tongue ties, these classes denote different manifestations of the lip tie. However, unlike tongue tie classes, the lip tie does get progressively worse as the class increases. Luckily, lip ties are less likely to cause nursing problems, but that doesn’t mean they can’t. If you notice the following symptoms of tongue tie, but your baby doesn’t seem to have one, check their upper lip. From there, you can proceed in the same manner as when addressing a tongue tie.
Will a Tongue Tie Cause Problems for the Baby?
In cases of major tongue ties, the answer usually presents itself quickly: You can see the tongue tie and you ask your doctor about it. However, in many cases, the tongue tie is less apparent. Instead, the most common symptom is that nursing is difficult and your baby’s mouth doesn’t seem to “work” quite right. Common symptoms include:
- Difficulty latching on to the nipple
- Frequent falling off of the breast
- Gumming or chewing while nursing
- Failure to hold a pacifier or bottle in place
- Unusual gas levels from swallowing air
- Excessive drooling
- Poor weight gain
- Failure to drain milk during feedings
- Choking while nursing
- Taking breaks to breathe while nursing
- Inability to sleep through the night due to frequent feeding
- Other behavioral problems while nursing
If you notice any of these issues, there’s a good chance your baby has a tie, even if it’s a hidden one. Tongue-tied babies may present some or all of these symptoms in the early stages of life, while they’re still nursing.
However, the problems don’t necessarily stop there. Most experts agree that tongue ties can continue to present problems later in life. Foremost among these is a problem with proper language development. In other words, the effect of the tie on the child’s ability to move their facial muscles may impact the clarity of their speech.
Not every speech-language pathologist is convinced, however, that early intervention is necessary to correct these issues – which is why you should take your cue from nursing rather than fears about the future.
What About Mama?
Tongue ties are unpleasant for mama as well. There is a close link between a tongue-tie and breastfeeding difficulties, including nipple pain, breast soreness, inability to drain the breast (which can lead to infection), and significant frustration.
If your baby is having trouble nursing, check for a tongue tie that might have been missed by your doctor or midwife. If you find one, you should check first with a lactation consultant to see if you can find a non-surgical solution. In some cases, such as when the tie is very apparent, you might want to skip straight to a procedure.
What Is the Tongue Tie Procedure Like?
If you or your doctor determine that the tongue tie is too severe to ignore, you can schedule a tongue-tie surgery at your local children’s hospital. Many primary care physicians are willing to do the procedure themselves, although others may refer you to a professional oral surgeon to stay on the safe side. This is especially true if the frenulum (or lip tie) is thick or embedded in the gums.
There exist two basic approaches to the surgery: using scissors and using a laser. They both have upsides and downsides. Scissors, for instance, are much quicker: All the doctor does is snip. Lasers, though, require significant setup time.
On the other hand, scissors don’t cauterize. In cases where the tie is thick and fleshy, the bleeding will be more significant, and you’ll have to wait for it to stop. If it still doesn’t stop, the doctor may need to cauterize the area, extending the trauma for you and baby. A laser, though, both clips and cauterizes at the same time. Either way, it’s a safe procedure and if you need it, it’s worth it.
What Is the Recovery Time Like from a Frenotomy?
Recovery time is almost instantaneous from a lip tie surgery. The baby may show some signs of discomfort for a day or two, but many babies never appear to notice it again. The healing agents in mother’s milk can help your baby get over the surgery faster, while mother’s milk also serves as a pain relief agent. Just make sure that, even if you have sore nipples from a tongue tie in your baby’s first days, you nurse as much as possible afterward.
As your baby recovers and you two learn to nurse anew, it may prove helpful to soften up your breasts before feeding. If you pump or express a bit of milk before putting the baby on, they may have an easier time latching because the breast isn’t so full and hard. You can also try different nursing positions until you find one that works for you.
How Do You Know If Your Baby Needs the Surgery?
If your baby has a significant tongue tie at birth (or an upper lip tie, for that matter), you’re a good candidate for the quick, safe surgery required to remove it. While some people prefer to wait and see whether they can get along without the surgery, it’s important not to go too long. While natural is great, it’s not worth getting sore breasts or having a baby who fails to thrive.
If you haven’t had your baby yet, it’s smart to look at pictures of tongue ties and lip ties so you recognize them. Your doctor or midwife should do a quick check for you, but just in case, you might want to say something to them about it beforehand to ensure you’re on the same page.
If you have a tongue tie baby and you face problems, including breastfeeding, watch this video from SJ Strum:
At the end of the day, it can feel very scary to cut any part of your baby, even for a medical purpose. You’ve worked so hard to keep them safe during pregnancy and delivery, after all. But if you must address a tongue tie with minor “surgery,” it’s for the best. Just remind yourself that it’s not just for your sake, but for the baby’s as well. With a tongue tie out of the way, you can both have a safe and wonderful nursing journey!
Do you have a tongue tie baby? Let us know how you take care of your child, especially with feeding, in the comments section below.