What is Tongue-Tie? What to Know

What is Tongue-Tie? What to Know

Tongue-tie is quite a common condition in babies, but fortunately, it’s easy to treat. Let’s take a look at what tongue-tie surgery involves.
Is your newborn baby having trouble feeding?

It might be caused by a tongue-tie.

Keep reading to find out more about tongue-ties and how to correct them.

In this article: 📝

  • What is tongue-tie?
  • How do you diagnose a baby’s tongue-tie?
  • What does a tongue-tie look like?
  • Is tongue-tie a birth defect?
  • How can you tell if a baby is tongue-tied?
  • Does tongue-tie need to be corrected?
  • What does tongue-tie surgery involve?
  • What age is best for tongue-tie surgery?
  • What happens if you don’t fix tongue-tie?

What is tongue-tie?

Tongue-tie is where the piece of tissue that connects a baby’s tongue to the bottom of their mouth is shorter than usual.

It can make it difficult for your little one to move their tongue, and can affect their ability to breastfeed.

But don’t worry, mama.

Not only is this a relatively common condition, it’s also super easy to treat.

How do you diagnose a baby’s tongue-tie?

Tongue-tie (which is also known by its medical term, ankyloglossia is usually spotted during your baby’s first visit with the pediatrician, right after they’re born.

It’s not always easy to see, though, and sometimes you’ll only realize that your baby has tongue-tie when you find out that they’re having trouble feeding.

Tongue-ties are often classified as different types (I, II, III, and IV), or as either anterior or posterior tongue-ties.

What does a tongue-tie look like?

To get a better sense of what we’re talking about, you can take a look inside your own mouth.

The piece of skin we’re referring to — the lingual frenulum — can be found underneath your tongue.
It’s usually quite far back in adults and extends easily as you move your tongue around.

Here’s what a tongue-tie looks like in babies:

Tongue-tie in babies

Is tongue-tie a birth defect?

Yes, tongue-tie is a congenital condition.

This means that it develops while your baby is still inside the womb and is present from birth.

(PS: We prefer to call congenital conditions “birth differences” instead of “birth defects.” Find out why here.)

Lip ties, where the piece of tissue that attaches your gums to your top lip is too tight, are also congenital.

Both lip and tongue-ties can be treated through a quick and easy procedure.

How can you tell if a baby is tongue-tied?

Breastfeeding can be tricky, mama, we know.

It isn’t always the picture of bliss and ease that we see in the media.

There are many reasons why breastfeeding can be hard (reach out to our breastfeeding support group if you need some help), but if your baby has tongue-tie, you might notice that:

  • They’re finding it hard to latch or stay latched to your breast.
  • They take short breaks in between fairly long feeds.
  • They seem to be hungry all the time.
  • They’re not gaining weight as they should.
  • They make clicking noises while they feed.
  • They’re battling with reflux, wind, hiccups, or colic.

You might find that you’re having a bit of a hard time, too.

If your baby is tongue-tied, you’re more likely to have sore or cracked nipples or struggle with mastitis.

Your milk supply might also run low.

There are a few other tongue-tie symptoms to look out for:

  • Your baby seems to have trouble lifting their tongue upwards or from side to side.
  • They can’t stick it out below their lower front teeth (or gums!).
  • Their tongue is shaped like a heart when they stick it out.

Does tongue-tie need to be corrected?

No, not necessarily.

Some babies don’t seem to battle with their tongue-tie, and if they’re able to feed properly, it might not need to be treated at all.

If you notice a tongue-tie, though, be sure to chat with your doctor about it, so they can examine your little one and advise you what to do next.

If your baby is struggling to feed, or there are signs that their tongue-tie might affect their ability to eat or speak as they grow up, your doctor might suggest treating their tongue-tie surgically.

The procedure is simple and easy, and should make a big difference to your little one’s life — and yours.

What does tongue-tie surgery involve?

Tongue-tie surgery is often called tongue-tie division (or a frenotomy or frenectomy).

It’s quick and easy to do, and most importantly, it shouldn’t hurt your little one at all.

Tongue-tie division involves cutting the skin with sharp, sterile scissors.

It doesn’t take long, only a few seconds, and usually doesn’t bleed a lot.

Once it’s done, you can start feeding your baby right away.

You might notice that your little one has a little white ulcer under their tongue afterward.

Don’t worry about this — it’s a normal part of the healing process and isn’t hurting your baby. It’ll go away in a day or two.

In babies who are only a few months old, tongue-tie division is either done without anesthetic or with a little bit of anesthetic to numb the tongue.

Older babies who have teeth will usually have general anesthetic, which will put them to sleep for the procedure.

In most cases, your baby should be able to feed better once they have tongue-tie surgery, as this study shows.

What age is best for tongue-tie surgery?

Is there a tongue-tie surgery age limit?

How and when you treat your baby’s tongue-tie is up to you, but if your baby’s tongue-tie is significantly affecting their ability to feed, it’s best to do it fairly early in life.

If your baby is younger than three months old, their frenulum will have fewer nerve endings or blood vessels, making the procedure quick and pain-free.

Always go with the advice of your doctors, though.

What happens if you don’t fix tongue-tie?

It’s best to treat baby tongue-tie, mama.

If you don’t, it might cause problems as your little one grows up.

Children with tongue-ties often find it difficult to make certain sounds or to eat certain foods.

They’re also more likely to battle with oral hygiene because they can’t move their tongue out of the way to clean their teeth properly.

And they could struggle with other movements that involve the mouth, like licking their lips, playing a wind instrument, or kissing.

If breastfeeding is proving difficult and you think your baby might have tongue-tie, schedule an appointment with your doctor or midwife.

They’ll be able to examine your little one and chat through your options with you.

Help is out there, mama.

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