Tongue Tied and Breastfeeding

After all of the troubles I had nursing my first son in the beginning, I had looked forward to a very easy go of it with baby number 2.  I knew how to get a baby latched, all of the different positions, what breastfeeding pillow worked best for me, and so on.  On the second day of nursing my nipples started to blister.  I was in terrible pain by the afternoon!  I tweeted about my problems and a few people responded: “Is your baby tongue tied?”

I had heard of this before but had not thought to check.  According to tonguetie.net it is:

Tongue Tie – also known as ‘Ankyloglossia’ or ‘anchored tongue’ – is a common but often overlooked condition.

It is seen at birth and causes a wide range of difficulties that affect the sufferer in different ways. Diagnosis and assessment are essential before taking any remedial action. In the past, there was little besides observation or anecdotal evidence to guide us towards a decision about whether to intervene. Now, both diagnosis and assessment of a tongue tie can be made by informed and qualified professionals.

Sure enough, I looked at the underside of my son’s tongue and saw that the “frenum” (thingy that anchors your tongue) extended to the very tip.  He could not extend his tongue past his bottom lip.

So now what?

I know tongue tied babies could have the frenum “clipped.”  I was 100% sure he was tongue tied, so I called my pediatrician.  We were in a pickle since my pediatrician didn’t even know we had another baby!  We had planned on waiting over a week to call.  Our midwife advised us that most peds are not homebirth friendly and if we called earlier, would demand us to bring him in sooner.

The phone conversation was awkward.

“So…….. we had a baby a couple of days ago and need to have him seen.  We think he is tongue tied and would like to see about having it clipped.”

“What is his name?  Where was he born? etc..”

“Everett R. Home.”

*chirp chirp*

They were able to see us in 30 minutes so we rushed to get ready.  This was Everett’s first time out of the house.

Once there, the reaction of the receptionist and nurse regarding the lack of paperwork that the office had on our baby was a little funny.  They weighed him and all of that fun stuff.  Then the doctor showed up and immediately said “We don’t clip tongues.”

Really?!

He did get a phone call into an Ear Nose and Throat doctor that he felt sure clipped tongues.  She was able to see us in a couple of hours.  Our baby was given a clean bill of health from the pediatrician, who said he was beautiful and the picture of health, and we left for the next doctor.

The ENT saw our son after a very long wait.  I had to nurse my son in public for the first time in the waiting room here.  Considering my nipples were raw, this was very difficult.  I had to use the football hold in a waiting room chair.

As soon as she saw my son she confirmed he was definitely tongue tied.  He was a 3 out of 4 regarding the severity.  Great.  No wonder my nipples were screaming in pain.

She let us know that she could clip him that day in the office.  We asked a few questions.  My main concern was the pain and how it would affect his nursing afterwards.  She assured me that the clipping would hurt very little, and only for a moment.  I was going to wait outside and my husband held him for the procedure.  They did apply a topical numbing agent.  It took seconds, I heard a cry, and I was called back in.  I immediately dropped my nursing tank and latched him on, bloody mouth and all.

He calmed down instantly and nursed.  Literally, the moment he latched I could tell he was nursing better.  While it still hurt because my nipples were blistered and raw, it only hurt while he latched.

Once he was finished we packed him in the car seat and drove home.  I felt such relief about our decision to clip his tongue.  I was also grateful we caught it early.  Prior to the clipping, nursing was so painful I winced and tensed up for the entire session, especially on my left side.  Had I not called that day my nipples would have gotten even worse.  In situations like this, the sooner you can clip the tongue, the better.

Eating from "righty"

Today I can happily say I am 95% pain free! My right side has healed completely and I can latch him in any position now, even while wearing him and walking around!  My left side was worse so it still has a little healing to do.  I still get less pain when I use the football hold or cradle.  Side lying in bed is harder and can still cause a wince, but at night I am too lazy to sit up and nurse so I have just dealt with it.  I believe by tomorrow I am going to be 100% ok.  I did favor my left side by pumping on occasion to give my nipple a break, and I used a nipple shield a few times when it was very painful.

To those who have never heard of this condition, it sounds barbaric to clip a piece of the tongue.  I understand.  It seems harsh.  However, I have seen with my own eyes how quickly the pain disappears.  To me, nothing is more important that salvaging the nursing relationship.  I worked for over a month with Lactation Consultants to perfect my first son’s latch.  This time, a small medical procedure was needed.  Even though he was getting enough milk, over time it could have affected my supply.  And of course, me being in extreme pain would have made continuing breastfeeding very hard.

If you suspect your baby is tongue tied, due to a painful and shallow latch, or of course, if you notice their tongue is anchored underneath, it is very wise to at least have them looked at.  I promise, it sounds terrible, but clipping their tongue will be worth it.  Other than breastfeeding problems, tongue tied babies can have trouble eating solids and can even develop speech problems.

image courtesy of Stanford Medical.

  • a friend of mine recently had a baby who was tongue-tied, which they didn’t discover until she was almost a month old. poor thing, she kept losing weight, and mommy wasn’t sure she was producing enough milk or breastfeeding right. once they discovered the problem, they were able to get right back to nursing and baby gained weight but only after a horrendous month of painful nursing. glad to hear you discovered the issue early, kim!

  • Kim, thank you so much for publishing this post. I had never known about tongue tie before and I only wish I’d known about it sooner.

    My son had his four month checkup on Thursday and the pediatrician confirmed that he was tongue tied. I was able to get into an ENT the next day since they had had a cancellation. They numbed his tongue, and I held him the whole time. He cried very little, less than he did when getting his vaccines the day before. By the end of the day it felt different nursing him. I only wish I had known earlier since I have not had a full supply and I never felt like he was an efficient nurser. But I hope this will help nursing go better.

    Thank you again for posting this. I probably never would have figured it out, if not much much later, were it not for you!

  • Lindsey

    Both of my boys were tongue tied and even after having it clipped I had issues with them nursing. My daughter was not tongue tied and was by far the easiet to nurse.

  • Heather Irwin

    I understand your pain! My son is also tongue tied. Our Pedi ENT decided it wasn’t bad enough to clip. I really didn’t want to have to do it, so we used a breast shield and did tongue exercises until he was about 8 weeks old.

  • My son was tongue-tied. His tongue was clipped at 1 week. It made a huge difference. The earlier the better so they can learn how to correctly latch. He didn’t cry much either. Glad everything is going great now. 🙂

  • Axelnkris

    My doctor said it would be o.k. Bit my son is one 8mos and I am worried about speech issues?

  • Axelnkris

    My doctor said it would be o.k. Bit my son is one 8mos and I am worried about speech issues?

  • Dawnshine77

    My 4th had tongue tie, I had cracked nipples for 3 months.  From the first time I latched her, I was like, WHAT!  I don’t remember it hurting like this!  She had it clipped at one month, but by then had learned improper sucking technique (biting and clamping down) and never re-learned it.  It is so important to check this and fix it EARLY!  After getting mastitis at 5 mo I resorted to pumping and bottlefeeding until she was 11mo.  

    The clipping is nothing to sweat about.  I went to a pediatric dentist, and got covered for the fee by insurance.

    BTW, I love the pic of you nursing your squishy newborn!