Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about when my children were newborns, and what a wonderful but overwhelming stage it is! I think this has been triggered by the fact that Bee just turned 1, and so I don’t really have a baby any more. It’s crazy how quickly this time has gone.
Some things about the early days have stuck with me (many others are best forgotten). There are problems that you expect, but there are also ones that can catch you unawares. Tongue-tie fell into the latter category. I had never heard of it but it had a big impact on the early days with my babies, and I think that more people need to be aware of it.
A tough start
Before I had the Cub, I didn’t think that feeding my baby would be an issue. I thought that I would try breastfeeding and if I didn’t like it, I would bottle feed. I read a bit about it, but assumed that it would come naturally. Get boob out, pop baby on, right? Wrong.
From the first feed, it was agony. I had been expecting it to be a bit sore but this pain was something else, like her mouth was full of little glass shards. Nobody at the hospital could understand why feeding was so painful as her latch looked good. “It shouldn’t hurt for more than a few seconds,” they said. Well, it bloody well did! No matter how I re-latched the Cub or which position I used, the pain continued. I tried nipple shields but they just made it worse.
I started to dread each feed and my heart sank each time someone suggested that I give her milk.
Eventually, a midwife happened to look right into the Cub’s mouth as she screamed in frustration and spotted a tongue-tie. In hindsight it was obvious as she even had a forked tongue but in my post-birth fog I hadn’t thought to ask about it. The poor thing was starving and I was in agony, shredded and bleeding, and on the brink of giving up after a few days.
What is tongue-tie?
A common condition, tongue-tie is when the membrane that holds the tongue to the floor of the mouth is too tight. This means that the baby does not have full movement of the tongue which is necessary to breastfeed successfully, as in order to stimulate let-down of milk the baby has to draw the nipple deep into their mouth and massage the breast with their tongue. This also helps to stop damage to the mother from baby’s gums. The Cub’s tongue-tie was 100%, her tongue completely anchored to the floor of her mouth all the way to the tip.
Signs of tongue-tie can be maternal pain that lasts the whole feed, dribbling of milk during feeding, clicking sounds and a nipple that is shaped like a lipstick after a feed. Baby’s tongue can be heart-shaped, forked or cup-shaped in the middle. There are other signs; I have attached links at the end of this post.
A tongue-tie often has to be cut to avoid future problems such as speech impediments and teeth issues, as well as resolving the immediate difficulty of feeding. The midwife told me that it would take about 4 weeks to get an appointment on the NHS. I knew I couldn’t carry on feeding for that long, so we coughed up about £100 for a private lactation consultant to cut the tie as soon as I got home from hospital on day 5.
The procedure was quick and simple and healing took only a few days. The Cub had to re-learn to feed and it still took several weeks for it to feel comfortable.
I coped by setting small goals for myself. I promised myself that I could stop after 6 weeks, but by then the pain was mostly gone. So I thought, OK, I’ll get to 3 months. Then 6, but by then we had hit our stride. The goal became a year. And before I knew it she was a toddler and I thought, we’ve got this far, I’ll just let her self-wean…
Ironically, my problem is now how to get her to stop!
Having dealt with tongue-tie once, you can bet I was on the look-out when Bee was born. But he latched on with no trouble and feeding was more or less pain-free. My milk came in plentifully and we were sent home in no time. More confident this time, I fed Bee on demand and initially all seemed fine.
But things didn’t carry on quite as smoothly as I expected. Poor Bee suffered with lots of wind and colic. He gulped and spluttered through the feed, and afterwards he would scream even though I was sure he was getting lots. I put it down to a strong let-down reflex and abundant milk. He would cope with the milk flow as he got bigger, I thought.
Time passed and by 4 months old, Bee was still not coping with my milk. He continued to cry and fuss after every feed and needed winding for some time afterwards. His sleep (and mine) was disturbed. I started to suspect that something was up.
I looked carefully in his mouth. Could he have a tie? His tongue wasn’t forked. He did have a visible membrane under his tongue, but so did I, and I could poke my tongue out with no problems. Just in case, I googled tongue-tie images, and there it was. An image of a baby with moderate tongue-tie, just like Bee.
I was furious with myself for missing the tie (great, something else to feel guilty about!). I suppose I missed it because Bee’s symptoms were completely different to the Cub’s, and feeding Bee didn’t hurt.
Off we went to a lactation consultant who confirmed that Bee had a 50% tongue-tie (similar to the one in the photo). We had it cut immediately. The consultant was surprised that my milk supply hadn’t been affected, but I was still feeding the Cub, and it was she who was keeping my supply going, so I hadn’t noticed a dip in supply that a tie might cause.
Immediately, Bee fed better. He stopped struggling with my milk and I could see that he was able to take much deeper swallows. The wind and fussiness vanished and he started sleeping much more soundly. What a difference it made to us.
What should be done?
I really think that more attention should be given to tongue-ties. Women are told that they should breastfeed and can be made to feel guilty if they don’t or can’t. How many of those babies whose mums want to breastfeed but can’t are affected by a tongue-tie which hasn’t been spotted? Being forced to give up breastfeeding can impact on a new mum’s vulnerable emotional well-being.
Some parents are told that their baby’s tie isn’t severe enough to be cut as it “doesn’t affect feeding.” Personally, I beg to differ. Bee was able to feed with his tie but he found it difficult and it caused painful wind.
What I would like to see is a trained lactation consultant in every hospital who can examine each baby for tongue-tie as part of the newborn check and divide it immediately if necessary. Even if the baby is going to be formula fed a tongue tie division can prevent future problems, saving a lot of pain, time and money.
Have you been affected by tongue-tie? What did you do? I’d be interested to know other parents’ experiences; please let me know in the comments.
Further reading and links
General feeding advice and parenting: Kellymom
More information on tongue-tie and to find a lactation consultant (UK): ATP
Another site covering tongue and lip tie: Tonguetie.net