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Tongue Tied: What To Do If You Think Your Newborn Has A Tongue Tie, From A Surgical Paediatric Dentist

Tongue ties are a common cause of difficulties breastfeeding, and can impair speech and eating. Today, our dental friend Dr. Neha, who regularly treated these tongue ties at Great Ormond Street Hospital, has kindly provided some information to help us better understand tongue ties.

In today’s article we’ll be covering:

  • What a tongue tie is (including its un-pronounceable name)
  • How to detect if your baby has tongue tie
  • What you can do about a tongue tie

What is a Tongue Tie?

Tongue tie is the informal phrase for ankyloglossia (ankle-glossy what?!). If you have a look in the mirror and stick your tongue out and up, you will see a thin ‘strip’ attaching your tongue to the base of your mouth. You have just encountered your lingual frenulum, and it is a normal part of anatomy that everyone has – even babies!

For some of us, this strip of tissue is slightly shorter and thicker than it should be. There are some babies, which could include yours, where this makes no difference to their development and wellbeing at all. However it could possibly restrict tongue movement and therefore cause some difficulty breastfeeding.

An article by the BBC found that in the UK, between 4 and 11% of babies are born with tongue tie.

baby with tongue sticking out

How Do I Know If My Baby Has A Tongue Tie?

The most common symptom of a tongue tie is difficulty breastfeeding. This is because a tongue tie can prevent the baby from latching onto the breast correctly or hinder the baby’s ability to suck and swallow properly.

There are also some other signs and symptoms of tongue tie:

  • Difficulty protruding the tongue past the lower gums
  • Difficulty moving the tongue from side to side
  • Their tongue to appear ‘heart-shaped’ when they stick it out

What Could Happen If My Baby’s Tongue Tie is Left Untreated?

There is a lot of talk online that untreated tongue tie can also lead to speech difficulties and dental problems later in life, however it is worth noting that this is VERY rare. You and your doctor will weigh up the benefits and risks when it comes to treating your baby’s tongue tie.

However, snipping the tongue tie isn’t always the answer if you are having trouble breastfeeding. There are several reasons why a baby may not breastfeed, and the first step is consulting your GP, midwife or lactation specialist. Have a read of this short guide produced by the NHS on how to check that your baby properly latched whilst breastfeeding: NHS guide on breastfeeding.

Lots of people assume that [breastfeeding] comes naturally, but in reality it’s more of a skill that you and your baby need to learn together.

What Are The Next Steps If I Think My Baby Has A Tongue Tie?

If your baby is breastfeeding normally and their weight is increasing as normal, you will not need any intervention.

If tongue tie is shown to be impacting on breastfeeding, this is usually ‘released’ in a small surgical procedure, called a frenectomy, whilst your baby is asleep or awake (depending on their age). Babies do not routinely have this procedure done if there are no issues with their tongue tie.

Your hospital midwife may have already checked for and discovered the tongue tie. However, if nothing was detected and you are worried your baby isn’t breastfeeding as they should, you should definitely speak to your midwife/GP/lactation specialist. You and your baby will then be referred appropriately.

Want To Stay Ahead Of The Curve?

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