A baby may be described as ‘tongue-tied’ when the thin piece of tissue that connects the underside of his tongue to the base of his mouth is abnormally short. This can vary in severity, but sometimes it prevents a baby from being able to stick his tongue out of his mouth. You may also notice that a baby with severe tongue-tie is unable to change the shape of his tongue, so it is always flat and doesn’t change from ‘thick and short’ to ‘thin and spread out’ in the way normal tongues can move.
It is found in up to one in 10 babies and is more common in baby boys. Although many tongue-tied babies are able to breastfeed normally, difficulties may arise if the tongue-tie prevents a baby from attaching properly to the breast and prevents them from being able to suck and massage the breast effectively with their tongue. This may lead to sore and cracked nipples and a fussy baby with poor weight gain.
Can tongue-tied be treated?
If your baby’s tongue-tie is causing problems with feeding, he can be quickly referred to have a surgical division of the tie as early as possible. After a tongue-tie division, and with support from a breastfeeding supporter, you may find that your baby’s latch improves quickly, enabling you to continue breastfeeding without pain.
The procedure is very quick and carried out by a trained infant feeding professional (such a midwife trained in the procedure) or a paediatrician. The baby does not have an anaesthetic – the tissue is quickly cut and usually the baby is offered a breastfeed to comfort them straight away.
Where can my baby have his tongue-tie divided?
Tongue-tie division has become more common in recent years. UNICEF Baby Friendly has a list of locations where the procedure can be carried out.