What is tongue-tie?
A tongue-tie occurs when the thin piece of skin under the tongue is very short and restricts the movement of the tongue. This makes it difficult for the baby to properly attach onto the breast when feeding.
Some babies with tongue-tie are able to feed normally. However, some do experience breastfeeding problems, such as nipple damage, low weight gain. Mothers can also experience recurrent blocked ducts or mastitis due to ineffective milk removal.
What is an upper lip-tie?
An upper lip-tie is where a piece of skin under the upper lip is very short or thick and is tightly joined to the upper gum. This can restrict movement of the upper lip preventing it from being able to pull up freely. This can also make feeding difficult as the baby is unable to form a tight seal with the nipple. In older children and teenagers, an upper lip-tie can be associated with a gap between the front teeth called a diastema. Generally, this is only a cosmetic issue.
Upper lip-ties are often associated with a tongue-tie.
Why is a tongue-tie a problem for breastfeeding?
A baby needs to be able to cup the breast with the tongue to be able to suck milk from the breast well. If the tongue is tied to the floor of the mouth, the baby cannot do this as well. This can result in ‘nipple-feeding’ as the nipple is not drawn far enough back in the baby’s mouth and constantly rubs against the baby’s hard palate as they feed. The mother may experience trauma to the nipple as a result.
There are many signs that a baby’s tongue-tie is causing problems with breastfeeding, but you don’t have to have all of them:
- nipple pain and damage
- the nipple looks flattened after breastfeeding
- you can see a compression/stripe mark on the nipple at the end of a breastfeed
- the baby keeps losing suction while feeding and sucks in air
- the baby makes a clicking sound when feeding
- the baby fails to gain weight
- the baby cannot poke his tongue out beyond his gum or lips
- the tongue cannot move sideways
- the tip of the tongue may be notched or heart-shaped when he cries
- baby may readily gag
- tip of the tongue may look flat or square instead of pointed.
Diagnosis of tongue-tie or upper-lip tie
If you suspect your baby has a tongue-tie or upper lip-tie that is causing breastfeeding problems, contact your lactation consultant or consult with our dentist Dr Ong. They will be able to assess your baby’s mouth to see whether a tongue or lip tie needs to be corrected.
Treatment for tongue-tie or upper-lip tie
If it is deemed that a tongue-tie or upper-lip tie is interfering with breastfeeding, releasing the tongue and/or lip tie can improve the baby's ability to breastfeed.
Correcting a lip or tongue tie is a simple procedure that takes only a second or two and the baby usually breastfeeds straight after the procedure. Here at Laser Dentistry, our dentist uses laser technology to release the lip or tongue tie. The mother will often notice a difference in how the baby breastfeeds, but it can take up to 2–3 weeks for a complete improvement to be made. Breastfeeding straight away also helps to stop any slight bleeding, distracts the baby from any discomfort and acts as a numbing agent.
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