Breastfeeding is natural and women have been doing it since the beginning of time. So why wasn’t it working for me?! In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, I’m happy to share our Tongue-Tie journey and what I’ve learned along the way with fellow parents.
Latch Issues and Nipple Shield Dependency
From my days in anatomy class, I knew that the soft tissue underneath the tongue (the lingual frenulum) and the soft tissue between the lip and gum (the labial frenulum) can be too tightly attached or attached in an abnormal location - causing a Tongue-Tie or Lip-Tie.
What I wasn’t prepared for was being told that my adorable one-day old had both. As the Lactation Consultation showed me I thought, “You mean THAT??! It looks like nothing!” But I couldn’t deny that despite great interest in breastfeeding, my little guy couldn’t latch on.
Lesson Learned: In such a tiny mouth with such a big task as breastfeeding, even what look like small abnormalities can make a big impact.
Lesson Learned: The expertise of Lactation Consultants can make a huge impact on the success and comfort of the breastfeeding relationship and in a new mommy’s confidence!
Why Does My Baby Seem Hungry All The Time?Aside from initial latch issues, my newborn didn’t show the more obvious symptoms of a Tongue-Tie, which can include poor weight gain, reflux, fussiness at the breast, baby fatiguing while nursing, and prolonged feedings.
However, looking back I do see that some more subtle things that may have been attributed to his Tongue-Tie:
- Paci Troubles: My guy couldn’t keep a paci (which he loved) in his mouth on his own until he was over 3 months old, and even then there was only one brand he could latch onto.
- Frequent Feedings: He has always averaged a few more feedings every 24 hours than “the books” said was expected at his age.
- Nipple Pain: I experienced intermittent nipple pain that I attributed to yeast but that never looked like yeast to my midwife.
- Feeding Quirks: While my guy transitioned smoothly to solid foods, he never spit foods out like other babies. I thought this was great but looking back I see that it was likely because he couldn’t.
Lesson Learned: Sometimes the effects of a Tongue-Tie are subtle.
Why We Didn’t Have Our Infant’s Tongue-Tie Clipped or LaseredTongue-Ties are very frequently repaired using surgical scissors or a laser. There are plenty of providers in my area who treat Tongue-Ties, so why didn’t I have my newborn’s Tongue-Tie fixed? Plain and simple - fear and a lack of information.
I was terrified to put my newborn through what I imagine would be a painful, bloody procedure involving anesthesia (local or general - I wasn’t sure) and a painful recovery. Because we hurdled our initial breastfeeding challenges quickly, I thought the Tongue-Tie was behind us! Our pediatrician didn’t make a big deal of it at all so we didn’t think twice.
I also didn’t fully understand what a Posterior Tongue-Tie was and I assumed that it was less problematic than an Anterior Tongue-Tie. A Posterior Tongue-Tie is much harder to see because the attachment of the frenulum is further back under the tongue, leaving the tip of the tongue free. What I later learned from a Speech Language Pathologist and from our ENT (ear, nose and throat doc) is that the location of the tie isn’t as important as the tightness of the tie in determining how much of an impact a child will face.
Lesson Learned: Parenting from a place of fear doesn’t always result in great decisions.
Why We Finally Decided To Have Our 1-year-old’s TreatedThe biggest reason why we decided after 12 months to have our son’s Posterior Tongue-Tie clipped was concern about his speech. With our baby’s first birthday on the horizon, we started noticing that in all of his babbling and mouthing and silly faces we almost never saw our little guy’s tongue. It laid flat and wide on the bottom of his mouth, tucked just behind his front teeth. He was saying “Dada”, but being the OT mom I observed that he wasn’t lifting his tongue to do it - he was compensating by lifting his lower jaw.
We watched him closely for over a month, played games with his tongue and encouraged him to imitate us lifting and sticking our tongues out with no success. I knew that if we waited, he might develop speech habits and oral motor patterns that are HARD to unlearn.
At his 12 month check-up, his pediatrician wasn’t able to physically lift his tongue to see his tie (which she had been able to do at his 1 month check-up) and supported our decision to see a specialist.
Lesson Learned: The effects of Tongue-Tie can extend beyond breastfeeding.
That’s IT?! Tongue-Tie Repair DayI thought we were just seeing an ENT for a consultation, but after determining that our boy had a moderate tie the ENT casually offered to clip it that day. Gulp! We discussed and I was shocked by what I learned. No anesthesia? No big recovery? Not that painful? A 2-second procedure? I agreed and they took my kiddo from me (and I had a good healthy mama cry about it).
I did hear him cry a few rooms away but he was distressed from being separated from me and being held down. I couldn’t distinguish the moment they actually clipped his tongue from his sounds (which was oddly very reassuring to me). They brought him back with a little bit of bloody drool and allowed and encouraged me to breastfeed. He happily chowed down and was back to his chipper self within a few moments. No more bleeding. No fussy day. I gave him 2 doses of Motrin, per the doc’s orders but I’m not even sure he needed it!
Lesson Learned: In a baby, Tongue-Tie repair is usually a minor, quick procedure with minimal recovery.
What We Will Do Differently Next TimeThere is a genetic component to tongue-ties and so I’m prepared to make different decisions with Baby #2’s arrival this fall. In the event that a Tongue-Tie is seen, I’ll have it clipped within the first month - in the first days if we’re facing breastfeeding challenges.
Here are some great resources that I wish I’d found much earlier in our Tongue-Tie journey that might be helpful for you:
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