Treating Tongue-tie: the advice I wish I’d been given

When my boy was born, the midwife ran through her checks and told us that he had tongue-tie. At that time I didn’t know much about tongue-tie, but she said that it could make breastfeeding more difficult and that he might grow out of it. The fact that she was laid back about it and that I managed to breastfeed my boy before we left the hospital, I didn’t worry too much about it. I wish I had.

Oh how I wish I knew then what I know now… if you ever have a baby with tongue-tie, or know someone who does – please read on for the advice that I wish I’d had a few weeks ago because I feel quite let down by the system and wouldn’t want it to happen to anyone else.

What is tongue-tie?

Tongue-tie is described as a ‘birth defect’ and is when the bit of skin that joins the tongue to the bottom of the mouth is longer than usual, sometimes making it difficult for the tongue to move freely. My husband and I researched it and soon realised that it probably wasn’t such a worry since it is quite common, affecting 3-10% of newborn babies. Luckily for us, my auntie is a midwife and she confirmed that it was nothing too serious to worry about and that it could easily get fixed.

Why get tongue-tie fixed?

  • Breastfeeding problems – while searching online and asking the midwives and health visitors about tongue-tie, the main reason given was that it could help my baby breastfeed more easily. Indeed, I was having problems with feeding my baby, but with him being my first child, I didn’t actually know what was normal or not at the time. My problem was that he would take forever to feed, so long in fact that I just felt like I spent all day feeding him because he wouldn’t settle otherwise. Looking back, I think the midwives and health visitors didn’t see his tongue-tie as an issue because he was putting on weight. No wonder he was putting on weight – I fed him all day long!
  • Speech problems – I haven’t done much research into how tongue-tie affects speech, but I have read that some health professionals tend to wait until a child is speaking (around 2 years old) to determine whether the tongue-tie affects their speech. For me, it seems likely that it would affect speech and why take the risk of waiting until it’s too late if it can be fixed now?
  • Dental problems – surprisingly something that no midwife, or health visitor, or GP, or key resources like the NHS website or Baby Centre site had made me aware of. My Mum, a dental practice manager, had been speaking to one of her dentists about my boy’s tongue-tie and the dentist explained how she’d seen it cause tooth decay in older children as the tongue can’t always reach far enough to clean teeth at the back of the mouth.

How is tongue-tie fixed?

Tongue-tie is fixed by simply snipping the skin (frenulum) so that the tongue is released. It’s a very quick procedure where a bit of local anaesthetic is rubbed into the mouth and the skin is snipped with a pair of sterilised scissors. Through my experience, it literally took seconds and was by no means a scary operation like I’d imagined (I visioned metal braces holding my baby’s head into place while a surgeon snipped the skin through a hole in some white paper covering my baby’s face…).

It wasn’t nice to watch, as I had to hold my boy’s hands down either side of him, the GP had to snip it twice to make sure it was done properly and my baby’s scream was the worst I’d ever seen or heard from him before. However, I simply fed him straight away and all was forgotten. There was a little bit of blood, more than I’d expected but nothing drastic.

Why I feel let down

Now that I know how quick and simple the procedure is, I wish I’d done it sooner. I’ll rephrase that – I wish someone had told me that I could get it fixed sooner AND told me how to get it fixed sooner. Whenever I spoke to the midwives, I was told that it could be sorted by a GP, if I wanted to have it sorted. They didn’t seem to know exactly how to get it fixed, simply just advising me to ask the GP.

When my husband and I registered our baby with our doctor’s surgery (when he was 1 week old) we asked if we could book an appointment to get his tongue-tie snipped and the receptionist told us that we had to wait for his 6 week check. We waited. I carried on feeding what felt like every 20 minutes and not being able to get anything else done. Eventually I came to the conclusion that the tongue-tie was affecting him feeding more than I thought, when my husband fed him my expressed milk by bottle for a whole weekend and he actually settled for longer than 20 minutes (3 hours in fact) after every feed. Having realised that both myself and my boy were a lot less stressed when he was fed by bottle, we switched to feeding him a combination of formula and breastmilk.

Not wanting to give up on breastfeeding, I then called my health visitor for advice and she advised me to make an appointment with the GP at my surgery right away, rather than wait for the 6 week check like I’d been told. She told me the name of the GP at my surgery and that I was lucky as he was the only GP qualified to sort tongue-tie in my town. If I wasn’t registered with them, I would’ve had to travel 40 miles to get it sorted apparently. I called the surgery, made the appointment with the GP without even explaining what it was for and when I turned up for the appointment, he simply confirmed that I wanted to go ahead with it and then went to fetch a pair of scissors. We were in and out in 5 minutes! The problem being though, my baby was 5 weeks old and too used to the bottle by the time we got it sorted. I can’t help thinking about how things might have been different if we’d got it sorted sooner.

According to this article published in 2011 in the Guardian, “tongue-ties used to be routinely snipped“. I wish this was still the case, but it isn’t. So if you do have a baby with tongue-tie, please don’t be naive like I was and take my advice to take it upon yourself to get it sorted, because you might just find that nobody else will help you enough.

My advice on tongue-tie

  • If your midwife at the hospital didn’t spot tongue-tie after birth, but you think your baby does have it, ask the communal midwives and your health visitor to have a look.
  • Go with your gut – if your baby is putting on weight causing no concern, don’t just leave it at that. There are more problems with tongue-tie than just feeding.
  • Read up on the pros and cons for having tongue-tie treated. Personally I couldn’t find many cons apart from a chance of infection which did not outweigh the pros in my opinion!
  • Find out where you can get the tongue-tie treated locally to you. There is a list here but my local surgery isn’t on this list so you might want to call your GP first.
  • Make an appointment to get it sorted ASAP and in the meantime, if you are breastfeeding and don’t want to give up then try and hold it out until you’ve got the tongue-tie snipped.
  • And finally, my advice would be to get it sorted whether you’re breast or bottle feeding. I feel so much happier knowing that the problem has been fixed before it’s too late. I’d hate to imagine an older child going through the procedure when it is so quick and forgettable for a baby. Surely it’s a lot easier on us parents too!

 

Have you had a similar experience with your baby? Have you also felt let down by the system or is it just me? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Hannah Stephen

aka Mummy Macaroni
Hannah set up Mummy Macaroni after becoming pregnant for the first time in 2012. With a background in digital marketing, Hannah is now using her knowledge of the online world to write this blog about her best interests - veggie/pescetarian food, parenthood and life in Warwickshire!

8 Comment

  1. OHHHHH YES!! I had a horrendous experience with tongue tie which wasn’t spotted. Feeding my baby meant I had to bite down on a towel each time to stop myself screaming – it was like he had a mouth of broken glass. Having breastfed my two older children with absolutely no problems I was totally unprepared for this. They did eventually discover and cut it but by then it was too late – he had learnt bad feeding habits and was losing weight. I still carried on breast-feeding (I should have stopped but had some crazy feeling I couldn’t as I’d breastfed the others) but had to supplement with formula for the first 3 months. I was only pain free after 15 weeks. And because of this (and needing to bite down on a towel!!) I couldn’t really go out as I couldn’t feed him in public which left me feeling really isolated and down. Wow, sorry for such an outpouring but I think this is a fantastic post and thank you for putting this out there as it’s such a small thing but can make a BIG difference. Thank you! x

    1. Thank you for your comment globalmouse, it sounds like you had a horrendous time with breastfeeding but glad you got through it in the end. I know where you’re coming from re the not wanting to go out in public, I felt quite nervous about going out alone in case my LO wouldn’t settle.

  2. mental parentals says: Reply

    Our son had tongue tie which was diagnosed a couple of weeks in. We were having a bit of an issue feeding – his latch wasn’t great and I often got blocked ducts & mastitis. At 4 weeks, we took him to a hospital 3 hours away for this simple procedure. I tore my heart out working myself up over how awful it was going to be. It really hit home when whilst say in the waiting room, a 3 year old boy had such bad speech problems because of a tongue tie. I knew then I was doing the right thing for my son. I wholeheartedly agree that any child with a tongue tie should get it sorted as soon as possible. Waiting until they’re a toddler means the procedure would need done under anaesthetic. How would you fancy someone coming at you with scissors wanting to cut your tongue?!

    1. Absolutely, I think it would be much worse for a toddler to go through it! I can’t believe you had to travel 3 hours, I don’t understand why there aren’t more practitioners qualified to do it…

  3. Boris says: Reply

    I have taken my time researching tongue tied babies but it is really challenging to find a good simple explanation that explains symptoms, and treatments as well. I am researching this for my own studies but wanted to complement your post. I have also read something very similar on a Canadian dental site wodbridgekids.com, not sure if related or not but good information just the same. Best. Boris.

    1. Thank you for your kind comment Boris.

  4. Tenneil Lee says: Reply

    My little boy is 2 weeks old and is tongue tied. We are considering having the procedure done as he is not picking up weight and the my milk is actually coming out the side of his mouth. I also have to bite down onto something when feeding as it is so painful. Thank you for your blog it settles my mind knowing that the earlier we do it the better.

    1. Thank you for your comment, I’m glad you’ll get it sorted – it’s absolutely worth doing for your peace of mind. It might not always solve all problems with breastfeeding but at least you can rule it out if not 🙂

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