Feeding Babies & Toddlers

Our Personal Experience with Tongue Tie and Breastfeeding

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How can something so natural be such a struggle? After my son was born the nurse laid him on my chest. I waited for him to do one of those amazing breast crawls like the videos I watched in nutrition school. You know, the ones where the newborn baby pulls his tiny little body up to his mother’s chest, rooting for milk. But, despite a natural birthing time free of medications and epidurals, he didn’t. So, we tried to encourage him to latch…and he still didn’t. “It was a fast delivery. He is probably very tired,” the nurse assured me. “Just enjoy him and try again later.”

We continued to try for the remainder of the day, finally getting a latch several hours later. It was stressful, to say the least. Why did it feel like everything was going wrong when I had done everything right? At the time, I had no idea of the challenges that can come along with breastfeeding. And I certainly had no idea my baby was tongue-tied.

tongue tie and breastfeeding

Latching On

The lactation consultants in the hospital checked for tongue tie, and one even mentioned it was a possibility. However, they said, he had a high palate, and that could also be the reason he was having trouble latching. And since he was fine once he would finally get latched, they thought a tongue tie was unlikely. However, for the remainder of my two-day hospital stay, we needed assistance every time Baby R and I tried to breastfeed. I was certain I must be doing something wrong. Or, maybe the little guy just hadn’t figured it out yet.

The thought of going home made me nervous. I needed so much assistance as it was. I comforted myself knowing my mom would be there to help me. Plus, she breastfed all three of her children, so surely she would know what to do.

The entire first week we needed help to get a latch. Sometimes it would take ten minutes or more. Just when I thought “How will I ever feed him?” he would finally get latched, and I would breath a sigh of relief.

Finally, the night before his one week birthday, he latched without me needing any help. He continued to latch easily (for the most part) from this point on. I was starting to feel better and finally sitting more upright, and I assumed that was the catalyst. I was beyond relieved!

Searching for Answers

Before long he was nursing like a champ, and I soon forgot about our breastfeeding struggles. In fact, he was nursing so well he wanted to do it constantly. I was finally enjoying nursing, but I getting very little sleep in the process.

In the meantime, when Baby R was around 2 weeks old, we started to notice he wasn’t sleeping well on his back. What’s more, it seemed as though he was constantly needing to burp. Our pediatrician told us he probably had reflux. However, he had gained weight so well that they weren’t concerned about it. Nonetheless, something seemed off, and I intended to find out what it was.

Diet Elimination

Our first attempt at tackling the problem was to try diet elimination. I was doubtful that a food intolerance was causing the reflux, but it seemed like the natural first step. We even had one practitioner suggest I give up all eight of the most common allergens. (In case you’re curious, these include milk, eggs, tree nuts, soy, wheat, peanuts, shellfish, and fish.) I was really hesitant to do this as I honestly felt that a food intolerance was unlikely.

I did end up eliminating milk, since this is the most common food intolerance for babies. For a while, I even cut out all caffeine, which wasn’t easy at Christmas time with chocolate galore. It can take several weeks to notice a difference when eliminating milk. However, after a whole month, I still hadn’t noticed a bit of difference.

Therapies

Many people swear by chiropractic to help with reflux and colic in infants. So, we started taking him to a chiropractor for regular care. Contrary to what you might think, chiropractic care for babies is very gentle. It’s not the popping and cracking you might imagine. Baby R loved the chiropractor, especially as he got older. Unfortunately, the reflux persisted.

Next, I decided to take him to a craniosacral therapist. Craniosacral therapy is a very gentle form of bodywork that can be used to treat a variety of issues. This seemed to help his sleep patterns slightly, but the reflux symptoms continued.

Tying it all together

By this time, I was reading and researching constantly, searching for answers to the reflux and sleep issues. I stumbled upon an article discussing reflux symptoms in babies with tongue and lip ties. I started digging deeper, and the more I read, the more connections I saw with tongue tie. Baby R had so many signs…the lip callous, reflux, difficulty sleeping, choking on letdown, clicking noises while nursing, and high palate (mentioned by both the lactation consultant in the hospital and craniosacral therapist). When I looked under his lip, I saw what appeared to my untrained eye to be extra tissue.

I found a reputable breastfeeding clinic that was skilled in assessing tongue ties and took him that week. The lactation consultant checked him and told us there was definitely tightness under his tongue. Lactation consultants can’t diagnose, so she referred us to a pediatric dentist who could and provide the revision if needed.

Our Tongue Tie Revision

The pediatric dentist did diagnose him with a tongue and a lip tie, and he recommended revising both given the clinical symptoms he was having. Finally, we had found the root of the problem, and we even knew how to solve it. He performed the revision using a laser in just a couple of minutes (more on therapies and why we chose laser revision in my article: Tongue Tie Breastfeeding Challenges).

I’ve learned it is different for everyone, but for Baby R we had immediate improvement in his latch. The clicking noises persisted for a few weeks, but even that diminished eventually. I followed up with a lactation consultant at a breastfeeding clinic about this, and she said often the clicking would be the last thing to disappear, usually within three to four weeks. Sure enough, one month later it was completely gone!

Tongue Tie Revision Aftercare

Aftercare is no walk in the park. We had to go through a series of exercises and stretches every 4-6 hours around the clock. Waking a sleeping baby to stretch his tongue and lip and rub over an open sore is not fun! However, we did it consistently for three weeks. By the end of it, Baby R was actually smiling in his sleep when we would rub his lip and tongue.

We also took Baby R for more craniosacral therapy, continued chiropractic adjustments, and myofascial release, all of which were recommended by our lactation consultant and pediatric dentist. These therapies helped to release tightness that had been created from poor sucking habits. We noticed a huge improvement in his sleep once we started the craniosacral and myofascial release therapy. He even tolerated his carseat better! (I had no idea, but apparently many other tongue tied babes hate the carseat.) Things were looking up, and we were relieved to see progress each week.

The Right Decision for Our Family

Apparently tongue ties are somewhat of a debatable topic, especially if a baby is gaining weight well like Baby R was. We considered the risks of getting a revision, and weighed them against the risks of doing nothing. Ultimately, we decided to go through with it. It’s a decision I will never regret. The procedure was low risk, and once the revision healed it resolved the reflux and latching difficulties within a matter of weeks. Tongue and lip ties can even have an impact on speech and self feeding into childhood and adulthood. Adults with tongue and lip ties often suffer from TMJ and headaches as well. I am thankful Baby R may not have to deal with these issues because of a simple two minute procedure.

Baby R is now 10 months old and we continue to have a wonderful nursing relationship. I’m so thankful that the procedure helped to encourage a positive nursing experience for both of us and that more light is being shed on this common problem and the impact it can have on a baby.

Disclaimer: I am not a lactation consultant, physician, or tongue tie expert. This is my personal experience only.

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