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Tongue and Lip Ties - Why is Breastfeeding my Baby so Hard?

October 2, 2018

I've been wanting to write this post for a while.  I tend to stalk the mommy Facebook pages, because I'm a new mom myself, and because I believe I have a lot of knowledge to offer to other moms. 

 

One of the things I see A LOT are questions from moms who are having trouble breastfeeding.  Sometimes, those moms have already given up breastfeeding, but their babies are still struggling with reflux or weight gain.  Invariably, these moms are asking for suggestions on good bottles to decrease gas, or what's the best way to increase milk supply, or what formula should they supplement with because their baby doesn't "like" to nurse.  And all of this makes my heart hurt.  I hurt for those moms who so desperately want to breastfeed and believe that they "can't", for those babies who are so obviously in pain and for the parents who feel powerless to make it stop.  I hurt for them because they are not getting the help that they need, and I want so desperately to help them.  

Here's the truth - tongue and lip ties are on the rise.  I think I will probably write a post about methylation and why prenatal vitamins with Folic Acid instead of Methylfolate are part of the problem, but suffice it to say, we are seeing more babies with tongue and lip tie than ever before.  And the problem is that most pediatricians, and too many lactation consultants (especially the ones at the hospitals), are not trained in screening correctly for tongue and lip tie, and knowing when to refer for revision. 

Let's play a game -

  Raise your hand if you visited the pediatrician when your baby was a month or so old, and the pediatrician told you that your baby wasn't gaining enough weight. 

  Raise your hand if the pediatrician told you that it was your fault - you don't make enough milk, your milk doesn't have enough calories, your baby must be "allergic" to your milk - and recommended that you supplement with formula.  

  Raise your hand if supplementing with formula helped your baby gain weight, but didn't help with the gassiness and fussiness.

  Now raise your hand if the pediatrician then recommended putting your baby on a medication for reflux.  

 

I'm betting a lot of you raised your hands.  This situation is all too common.  And I bet that in all of those visits to the pediatrician, he or she never sat down and looked inside your baby's mouth.  Because while it is true that some mothers have trouble producing milk, and some babies have sensitivities and reflux, there are WAY TOO MANY moms and babies being told they have a problem that can't be fixed, when really it can be.  


I need to start with what constitutes a tongue or lip tie. Tongue and lip ties are caused by extra growth of normal frenulum tissue, causing the tissue to be tight, and hindering the proper movement of the lip or tongue. This improper movement doesn't allow the baby to latch or suck efficiently.  It also hinders the baby's tongue from correctly massaging and forming the palate. 

And an upper lip tie creates pockets that later can store food, leading to upper tooth decay.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let's talk about the symptoms of tongue and lip tie.  We'll start with the symptoms on the breastfeeding mom's side - 

     * Painful latch

     * Cracked, blistered, painful, or bleeding nipples (while some initial discomfort is expected, your nipples should NEVER bleed - that's not normal! ) 

     * Low milk supply 

     * Recurrent plugged ducts or mastitis 

     * Prolonged feeding times (Your baby eats for an hour at a time, and then is hungry again not 20 minutes later.) 

 

And here are the symptoms in baby: 

     * Colic/Irritability and fussiness  

     * Reflux (silent reflux too) 

     * Gassiness  

     * "Clicking" during eating 

     * Falls asleep at the breast while eating

     * Slow or little weight gain 

     * Can't hold a latch (or for that matter, can't hold a pacifier in their mouth for very long.  If your baby is constantly dropping his or her paci, that is a sign of a tongue tie.) 

     * Gumming and clamping nipple (that's why it hurts so much!) 

     * Excessive dripping from breast or bottle while feeding 

 

Do these things sound familiar?  If you're saying yes to several of these, the chances are good that your baby has a tongue or lip tie that needs revision.  

You might be asking - but why would I want to put my baby through the pain of a revision?  I can just stop breastfeeding and put him on formula and Zantac and that solves all of our problems, right?  Except that it doesn't.  Babies with tongue and lip ties grow up to be adults with tongue and lip ties.  And that tight tissue under the tongue or lip leads to tight tissue elsewhere.  That inability to move the tongue and lip correctly causes problems later.  Some future issues that unrevised ties can cause are: 

     * Speech delay or difficulty 

     * Headaches or migraines 

     * Tooth decay, gum disease, chronic bad breath 

     * Face pain, neck pain, or back pain 

     * Sleep apnea or sinus problems

     * Jaw pain, clicking or popping of the jaw, or difficulty opening the mouth wide 

     * Trouble eating some food textures 

 

And the list goes on.  If your baby is having issues from birth, he will continue to have issues throughout his life.  And wouldn't it be better to have a little bit of pain with revision, but avoid a lifetime of difficulty from a tongue or lip tie? It is never too late to revise a tie, but the earlier it is revised, the easier it is to break the bad habits formed (sucking begins before birth, so your baby is already learning bad habits before he's born!) by the tongue or lip's inability to move correctly.  

 

If you see yourself or your baby in what I am describing here, what can you do?  Make an appointment and come in to my office! I would be happy to assess your baby for a tie, and then refer you for revision if it is needed.  I also do cranial work, releasing the related tissue that becomes tight when a tie is present.  And I will teach you some suck retraining exercises to do at home, so that your baby can start learning how to use his tongue correctly. 

 

 

So - this is a lot of information.  I'm sharing it because I hope it will help at least one mama to seek out help for her little one.  Breastfeeding is hard.  Being a new parent is hard.  But it doesn't have to be THIS hard.  There is help out there! I can help you - and if I can't, I promise I will find you someone who can.   

 

*A special thank you goes out to Dr. Liz Berg of Nourish Family Wellness for the great tongue and lip tie information*

 

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