What I Learned About Tongue Tie

Since Christina posted her experience with her daughter’s tongue tie, I’m seeing and hearing more and more about this not-so-uncommon occurrence with newborn babies. Depending on where you are reading, experts say it occurs in anywhere from 2% to 16% of babies. But I wonder if that number is much higher because it goes undiagnosed so often?

When a brand new mama is struggling with a poor latch or her baby isn’t gaining weight at a normal rate, an insufficient milk supply is often blamed. There are lots of factors that can cause a baby to not latch correctly, and a tongue tie can be one of them. Depending on the kind of tongue or lip tie, it can make nursing very difficult and extremely painful for mama. If a short frenulum (that little bit under that connects your tongue to the bottom of your mouth) is too short, a baby may not be unable to stick their tongue out far enough to get an effective latch. it can mean he isn’t getting as much milk as he should be. And if baby’s latch never gets corrected, it can negatively affect a mama’s milk supply too.

When my first son, TJ was born, he had a terrible latch. It was very shallow and incredibly painful for me. You can read more about it here. I didn’t know anything about tongue ties and no one, not our lactation consultant, nor our pediatrician, ever thought to check TJ for one. I struggled on my own, not sure who to ask for help.

It took over eight weeks before breastfeeding wasn’t excruciatingly painful each time he latched on. Eventually my body healed, his latch got better and breastfeeding actually became enjoyable for me. We went on to nurse for 19 months before he self-weaned. But, I have since learned that we were incredibly lucky. Our breastfeeding journey could have had a much different course.

When my second son, M was born my midwife noticed right away that he had a tongue tie. She confessed that she checks every baby she sees. Even before we went home that day, we had plans to come back the following day to get his tongue tie clipped. Upon further inspection, she found he also had a pretty thick upper lip tie, which was also clipped.

Image by Earthside Birth Photography

Both of these explained why M’s latch was very painful for me, even when he was just hours old. His lip and tongue ties caused him to latch too shallow and the pain I felt was exactly the same as it was with my older son. I broke out in a cold sweat thinking about dealing with that pain every two to three hours for weeks and weeks again.

It took less than a week for M to get his latch correct after getting his tongue and lip tie clipped. We got it figured out quickly and he’s been a fantastic nursling ever since (still going at 15 months!). He put on over four pounds by my six-week checkup!

After everything I learned with M, I suspected that my older son TJ probably had a tongue tie as well (he was four when my youngest was born). My midwife checked, and sure enough, he did. As a baby his frenulum stretched out and he learned how to nurse without hurting me. But that doesn’t always happen with all babies. I honestly don’t know how long I would have lasted with breastfeeding if he never learned how to latch without pain.

My midwife said that a tongue tie can often be hereditary and I immediately thought of the struggles my own mom faced when she was learning how to breastfeed me as a first-time-mama. I, too, had a very shallow latch and it was extremely painful in the beginning for her. I asked my midwife to check and, yep I have a tongue tie too (so does my husband). Mine has obviously stretched out over the years and it never affected my speech. But how much easier could the newborn phase had been for my mom if someone had thought to check her baby’s mouth rather than just tell her to tough it out?

I’ll confess, in that postpartum emotional roller coaster after my youngest was born, I had a little cry over how stressful the early weeks with my oldest son had been. I thought of the 4 a.m. meltdowns when I couldn’t get him to latch without me crying out in pain, wondering what brand of formula I was going to have to ask my husband to buy. I cried thinking about how much easier learning how to be a mama for the first time could have been if anyone who helped me with his terrible latch had thought to check for a tongue tie.

Some pain when nursing in the very beginning is normal, doesn’t matter if you’re a first time mama or it’s your fourth. I had more than a few people tell me that even toe-curling pain is normal for a short while. But please mamas, don’t be afraid to ask for help!!

One Response to What I Learned About Tongue Tie

  1. This is very helpful and I can totally relate. My second baby had tongue tie and it was a long month! We still have trouble breastfeeding and hope that things will get easy for both of us as baby grows.

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