How tongue and lip tie issues can hinder breastfed babies' healthy growth

One mum shares how lip or tongue tie caused her breastfed baby's extreme weight loss...

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As a breastfeeding mum, you want to make sure to nourish your child in the best possible way. But sometimes there will be unexpected struggles that will test your resolve. For mum of two Jordan Talley, these struggles came in the form of tongue tie breastfeeding issues.

She recounts her experience in a story published on the popular inspirational website Love What Matters. The second-time mum recalls having to leave her firstborn in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) because of elevated blood sugar. Because of this, she could not exclusively breastfeed. And so she became all the more determined to breastfeed her second baby, Lucy. 

Mum Shares How Tongue Tie Breastfeeding Issues Hindered Her Baby's Healthy Weight Gain

Talley got diabetes early on in her second pregnancy, so she was surprised her baby Lucy weighed lighter than expected (gestational diabetes babies are usually born overweight). Thankfully, baby Lucy's blood sugar was normal; she also seemed to have a good latch.

Being a first-time exclusively breastfeeding mum, she assumed that because her baby's tiny lips were moving and her latch was fine that she was nursing well. But she thought wrong.

A latching consultant told Talley that her baby had a shallow latch; she was even given tips to position and hold for a deeper latch to improve feeding and manage nipple pain and soreness. 

When they brought baby Lucy home, the mum did everything to make sure she could provide adequate breastmilk supply through a diet of oatmeal, flax seed, lactation cookies, brownies. 

Her Baby Started To Pull Away and Scream

Since her baby would fall asleep as she ate, Talley assumed that it was because she was full. But then baby Lucy was starting to pull away and scream. She first worried it was poor supply, but she knew deep down that it was more than that. 

True enough, a check-up confirmed her suspicion. Low milk supply was not the culprit; it was the low caloric content in her milk. So it was not the quantity but the quality of milk. 

According to Talley, her baby's weight dropped from her weight at birth, which was 6 pounds and 8 ounces in a month. Her baby's "eyes were dull and sunken in" and breastfeeding was still a painful experience.

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Tally laments how she felt like a failure as a mum. Despite this, she was surrounded by well-meaning friends, and eventually she found a lactation consultant who diagnosed her baby with tongue and lip tie.

It was through this lactation professional that she found the solution: donor breast milk and (eventually) tongue tie and lip tie revisions.

After the procedure, baby Lucy breastfed, and her mum truly felt the difference. Baby Lucy gained a pound beyond her birth weight — 7 pounds, 8 ounces. 

Her mum was thankful she didn't need to use formula, but she also clarified that she had nothing against formula but was just fully committed to breastfeeding. 

Tongue Tie and Lip Tie Tips for Parents

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A tongue tie or ankyloglossia, is a condition that happens when the thick tissue that connects the bottom of a tongue's tip to the floor of the mouth is shorter than normal. This can restrict the movement of the tongue and make it difficult for a baby to stick his tongue out, breastfeed, swallow or in some cases, let out sound. 

What causes tongue ties? There has yet to be one specific cause of tongue ties. But some believe this can happen when your baby's lingual frenulum (the short thick tissue) doesn't separate from the tongue. Because of this, movement is restricted.

What Are the Symptoms of a Tongue Tie?

Aside from tongue tie breastfeeding issues, here are some of the most common characteristics of this condition in a baby: 

  • Lip blisters under the upper lip
  • Upper lip tucks inwards
  • Two-tone tongue, dents in the tongue, tongue curl
  • Difficulty in moving or lifting the tongue
  • Unable to stick tongue out, specifically beyond lower teeth
  • Tip of the tongue is heart shaped
  • Mum gets constant sore, cracked nipples, mastitis, or blocked ducts
  • Constant latching or breastfeeding issues
  • Baby latches for too long
  • Baby makes "clicking sounds" while trying to feed
  • Milk ejection reflex or spraying milk into baby's mouth
  • Baby doesn't have healthy weight gain after birth; always hungry

Can You Still Breastfeed a Tongue Tie or Lip Tie Baby?

Though there are cases of tongue tie that don't interfere with breastfeeding, it can still cause serious problems for some. When a baby has tongue tie breastfeeding issues, they may be unable to latch at the proper angle. Because of this, babies may resort to latching and chewing on their mum's nipple. Thus a common symptom is cracked, sore nipples or even intense pain, bleeding and infection. 

Because of their abnormally short lingual frenulum, babies with tongue tie make noisy sucking sounds. They can also be at risk for coughing, gagging, choking, or vomiting. 

While some doctors recommend repositioning or medication to manage pain, it's likely that this will persist unless medical intervention like corrective surgery is done to correct the defect. This will also occur when baby tries to bottle feed.

Because of tongue tie, babies can suffer hunger, malnourishment, sleep problems, crying, vomiting, and it can cause gas buildup in their tummies. 

If you are going through tongue tie breastfeeding issues, rest assured that you are not failing as a mum. 

If this latching issue persists, it's best to consult your baby's paediatrician to make sure your little one gets the most out of the wondrous benefits of breastfeeding. 
 

Sources: International Journal of Clinical Pediatrics, Love What Matters, UNICEF, NHS UK, TongueTie.net

ALSO READ: Tongue tie in babies: Everything you need to know about this condition