Lip & Tongue Ties: More Common Than You Think
Updated: Sep 4
My older brother had a tongue tie when he was younger, enough so that it is still a joke in our family to try and get him to say "aluminum" in front of others even though he had the corrective procedure done when he was five years old. He was the only one I know that ever talked about it, so I always assumed they were relatively rare. It wasn't until I noticed that my newborn son was displaying some of the classic signs of a lip tie that I actually did my research and realized how common ties actually were. That didn't do much in the way of making it any less scary as a new mom. It's completely understandable that you would have a million questions, so let's start with determining if it might even be a possibility.
Signs of a Lip/Tongue Tie
There are a handful of classic signs that you can look for to determine if your baby may have a lip or tongue tie:
Wedge shaped nipples. If you notice that breastfeeding is extremely painful and your nipples come out of your baby's mouth shaped like lipstick, this is usually indicative of a "shallow latch". This basically means that your nipple is not getting far enough back in your baby's mouth. This can have many causes and lip/tongue ties are one of them.
Curled lip(s). When your baby is eating, both the top and bottom lip should be puckered outwards like a fish. If you notice that one (or both) of their lips are curled under, this could be indicative of a tie. (This may be a little easier to notice if your baby is eating from a bottle. )
Clicking sounds. Babies with tie(s) tend to make clicking sounds withe their tongue while eating (either from a bottle or from the breast), This can sometimes be accompanied by difficulty breathing while eating or gagging.
Poor weight gain. Since ties can make it more difficult for your baby to eat enough to take in the appropriate amount of calories, it is very common for babies with severe ties to face difficulty gaining weight.
There are other symptoms to consider such as extreme gassiness, colic and acid reflux. These can be difficult to pinpoint though as every baby is different and many babies experience these even without ties. If in doubt, it is always best to ask. No medical expert will be offended by you asking for them to check.
If you notice that one or more of the signs above apply to you or your baby, it may be time to consider further action. As with anything in parenthood, trying to identify the best next steps can be extremely overwhelming. As it turns out, my son actually had both! The good news is that lip and tongue ties are incredibly common and, aside from ignoring it completely, there is really no wrong way to handle them. Even if you decide that corrective treatments aren't the best option for you and your little one, the best thing you can do is furnish yourself with as much information as possible to be confident in your choice.
Consult the professionals. Pediatricians, lactation consultants and pediatric dentists all have different and valuable perspectives to offer. Consider scheduling a consultation with all three so they can assess how severe the tie(s) may be and help you consider each perspective carefully
A pediatrician can help weigh in on whether or not the tie(s) are causing any issues with your baby's weight, development and/or blood sugar levels.
A lactation consultant can help provide expertise on how your baby's tie(s) will affect your breastfeeding journey (if you choose to do so) and how corrective procedures may prove beneficial or harmful. They can also help you identify ways to continue breastfeeding with tie(s) should you choose not to have them corrected.
A pediatric dentist can talk through how the tie(s) may affect oral hygiene and any considerations about speech development. They are also usually the ones that perform the corrective procedures and can provide in-depth information about the procedure, risks, recovery and how you can be involved.
Don't rush your decision. Unless your baby is having extreme difficulty with eating and weight gain (your pediatrician can help identify if this is an issue), then there is really no need to make the decision on the fly. Take the time to consider all the perspectives and information you were provided, weigh the pros and cons and think of any new questions. There is no deadline or closed window of opportunity.
Give yourself a break. This is a tough decision. Making the call on something that you know will cause any pain to your baby is hard, so it's entirely expected that you may battle back and forth on the idea. Any mother can understand why you would rather saw off your own arm than see them in any pain. Give yourself some grace and understand that you have done an amazing job so far by asking questions and gathering information. No matter which direction you choose to go from here...you got this Momma!