Treating breastfeeding tongue ties and lip ties

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If you’re experiencing nipple pain or if your baby seems to be having trouble latching on or getting enough milk, he or she may be suffering from a tongue or lip tie. Read on to learn more about this condition and what you can do to fix it.

What exactly are breastfeeding tongue ties and lip ties?

A tongue tie is when the little membrane, called the frenulum, under the tongue is tighter or located more forward than usual. A lip tie is similar and can occur on the upper, lower, or even the sides of the lip.

TIP: Although tongue-tie can affect anyone, it’s more common in boys than girls. Tongue-tie sometimes runs in families. Want more information about tongue and lip ties? Listen to our podcast episode or read our transcript!

What are the symptoms of tongue ties and lip ties?

  • Nipple pain
  • A baby who can’t stay on the breast or has a lot of difficulty latching on the breast, especially when the mother’s milk comes in and the breasts get fuller.
  • A baby who has trouble gaining weight and/or is constantly feeding to try to get enough milk.
  • A clicking noise when the baby nurses – caused by the tongue trying to lift up and then being pulled back by the frenulum.
  • Baby may not be able to turn their upper lip out; if it stays tucked in, there may be a lip tie.

How are these conditions diagnosed?

There are different ways, depending on your practitioner, but the diagnosis usually involves an exam to see how the tongue and lips move in relation to the mouth.

Do tongue ties and lip ties always negatively affect breastfeeding?

Not always. For example, if a mother has nipples that stick out a lot or the baby’s frenulum is very stretchy, a slight tongue tie might not cause that much of a problem. On the other hand, some things besides tongue/lip ties could cause trouble with feeding like pinched nerves and tight neck muscles. You would want to rule out these and all other causes before treating a tongue or lip tie.

How do you treat a lip tie or tongue tie?

Options include having a doctor snip the frenulum with scissors or removing it with a laser. Both have a relatively quick recovery process (a few days) and besides some crankiness, most babies seem to weather the procedure just fine. This type of tissue has few nerve endings, so pain medication usually isn’t necessary, although some doctors will rub a bit of local anesthetic gel on the site. As far as recovery, you want to try and minimize scarring, so the best thing to do is breastfeed and get the tongue and lip area moving. Parents can also try lifting the tongue, stretching the area, or rubbing the incision to promote healing and prevent scarring.

Are there negative effects to lip ties and tongue ties beyond difficulty breastfeeding?

For lip ties, there’s very little data, but some studies suggest that unresolved tongue ties can lead to an increased risk of sleep apnea, dental decay, and speech problems.

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