Struggling to Establish a Breastfeeding Relationship with Your Newborn? Should You Seek Tongue-Tie Surgery?

Posted on: 22 August 2016

If your dreams of having a child have always included the mental image of holding a snuggling infant to your breast, you may be frustrated by latching issues that interfere with the establishment of a breastfeeding relationship. A bad latch between mouth and nipple can cause your child to ingest too much air and develop gas, interfere with the balance of foremilk and hindmilk your body produces, and cause nipple pain and even cracking and bleeding. In some cases, your physician may diagnose your child as "tongue-tied" following a physical exam and recommend minor surgery to improve his or her ability to feed. Read on to learn more about what this diagnosis can mean for your infant, as well as the treatment options that can ensure the best outcome for both you and your child. 

What causes an infant to be tongue-tied?

The "tie" in tongue-tied refers to the frenulum, the thin piece of skin that connects the underside of your tongue to the bottom of your mouth. While a normal frenulum allows a wide range of vertical and horizontal motion, in some cases, this frenulum attaches the majority of the tongue to the lower mouth instead. This can make it difficult for affected infants to move their tongues up and down more than a few millimeters at first, although the frenulum will generally stretch as needed over the next several months with frequent use.

This condition can be fairly common, and if not corrected, generally presents no problems with eating or drinking in later childhood and adulthood. However, an inability to move the tongue very far can make it tough for infants to successfully breastfeed, as this range of motion can pinch the tip of your nipple between your infant's tongue and the roof of his or her mouth rather than allowing the mouth to open wider and gain a better grip on the entire areola.

What should you do to treat a tongue tie?

Although you can avoid the effects of a tongue tie on your child by switching from breastmilk to formula (or exclusively pumping) and purchasing certain types of bottle nipples designed to work around this issue, the best solution for those who still want to establish a breastfeeding relationship is to have the tongue tie clipped in a procedure known as a frenectomy. This outpatient procedure can be performed by many pediatricians, and because there are very few nerves in the frenulum, it is essentially painless. You may notice an immediate improvement in your child's ability to latch and fully empty your breast at a single feeding.