What is tongue-tie and what should parents do if their baby has it?

Posted in Baby Health.

These days, three percent of babies are affected by tongue-tie, and increasing numbers are being treated for the condition by surgery.

But what exactly is tongue-tie and what should you do if you suspect your baby has it? Sydney GP, Elysia Thornton-Benko sheds some light on everything we need to know about tongue-tie – what it is and what we should do if we are faced with it.

Listen to Elysia Thornton-Benko on Feed Play Love

So, what is tongue-tie?

According to Elysia, tongue-tie is when the tissue under the tongue is tighter than usual.

“Underneath our tongue, there’s that little sort of layer of tissue, and we call that the lingual frenulum,” she says. “Basically, we like a tongue that’s mobile and free, and tongue-tie is when that bit of lingual frenulum is a little tighter or a lot tighter.”

This can mainly affect babies in those early initial stages of feeding, either breastfeeding or bottle feeding.

“That’s when we start getting worried,” says Elysia. “But not all [babies with] tongue-ties require intervention; I think that’s important to stress.”

What should I do about it?

Elysia says you don’t need to do anything about a tighter layer of lingual frenulum under the tongue unless it is causing issues with feeding.

“So if we’re talking breastfeeding, if there are issues with baby thriving, with baby gaining weight or with the passing of bowel motions that you put down to not getting enough intake … then you definitely want to start thinking, ‘Okay, let’s have a look. And we should be doing that at the six-week check,” she says.

If you do notice these sorts of issues, your first port of call would be your GP. Or you can also see a lactation consultant or paediatrician. “But you certainly don’t need to intervene unless it’s causing an issue,” Elysia says. 

Is it more common in boys or girls?

Tongue-tie can affect either gender; however, it is slightly more common in boys. And there might be a genetic tendency to run in families,” she says.

Can tongue-tie be missed?

There are no actual tongue-tie specialists, and diagnosing it can be somewhat subjective, in terms of how tight is too tight.

As a result, Elysia says it’s essential to empower mothers and caregivers to be aware of the signs of tongue-tie and if there are any “feeding issues and other issues related to thriving” to ask about it.

Additionally, there is a chance that tongue-tie could go undetected.

“It could potentially be missed because a doctor or other health professional might say, ‘Well, it’s not so bad, there’s good movement there,’” says Elysia.I think you do have to trust your instinct. Get a second opinion.”

Baby sleeping

Not to be taken lightly

While the procedure is a simple one, it’s not something you would put your baby through unless you absolutely had to.

“If you proceed … and you want the release, which is a little snip. Certainly, no anaesthetic is used in those first four months. If it’s picked up early, then you want to make sure that it’s the right procedure and make sure you’re going to someone who’s done these procedures before,” Elysia says. 

Who performs the operation?

GPs can carry out the procedure as well as experienced nurses, paediatricians, some surgeons and even some lactation consultants. “See your GP and have a chat about it,” she says. “Get them to have an examination, and then you can talk about various professionals who can help.”

Are babies being over-diagnosed?

The number of babies being treated for tongue-tie is definitely on the rise, with statistics showing that they have even quadrupled. While Elysia cannot comment on the statistics, she feels that perhaps there are some babies being treated for tongue-tie unnecessarily.

For Elysia, however, she says the main thing to think about is that if you feel like there are any issues around your baby’s feeding, whether breast or bottle-feeding, then go and seek help.

“And if you notice a deformity as well in the tongue, again, you go to your GP.”


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