In the past doctors dismissed tongue tie as an issue and rarely did anything about it. Nowadays it is recognised as a common problem and can have a detrimental affect on babies and their feeding, as well as possible speech problems for older children. It affects 3-10% of newborn babies. It basically occurs when the bit of skin attaching the tongue to the floor of their mouth (the lingual frenulum) is too short and too tight and prevents them opening their mouth widely. If the baby is not latching on correctly when breastfeeding, it can be very painful for the mother and the baby may not be able to feed properly. In toddlers, tongue tie can affect their speech and ability to pronounce certain sounds.
Tongue tie is also classed according to how bad it is. So, a baby may be 50% tongue tied or 100% in severe cases. It is a good idea to ask the hospital to check your baby’s tongue when they are born. It can save a lot of distress and discomfort dealing with it after you are discharged. You can often see the piece of skin at the front of their mouth and babies will have a distinct ‘heart shaped’ tongue with what looks like a dent in the middle of it. Don’t think that because you are not in pain that the baby is necessarily feeding properly. They may still be taking in too much air and suffer from painful wind, even if feeding feels comfortable for you. If your baby has colic, ask a Health Visitor to check for tongue tie.
The good news is that tongue tie is relatively easy to rectify. They simply hold the baby’s head while they snip the skin to divide it and allow the baby to open their mouth wide enough to feed. The procedure is over before you know it. It is more distressing for the mum than the baby! They normally ask the baby to suckle immediately after the snip to comfort them and relieve any pain. There may be some light bleeding but the baby is unlikely to be bothered or aware of it. In older babies or toddlers a general anaesthetic may be used to do the procedure. The problem may be teaching your baby how to feed again as they are likely to have got into bad habits. This can take days or weeks. Be persistent if you can as your baby will get there in the end.
If you suspect your baby or toddler has tongue tie or would like more information contact your health visitor, doctor or a health care professional.