I looked forward to breastfeeding when I was pregnant. Of course, I wanted to provide the best nourishment for my little one. I never realized that breastfeeding would end up being one of the most difficult commitments I’ve ever had, and I’m studying for MCATS so that should mean something!
One of the biggest reasons for this difficulty was the fact that my baby girl had both a posterior tongue tie and lip tie. I had never heard of these conditions, so I wasn’t able to identify it.
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First: What is a Tongue/Lip Tie?
So, before I try to explain what either is, what will help to understand both is what a “normal” tongue and lip look like.
If you were to raise your tongue towards the roof of your mouth you should expect to see a thin strip of tissue extending from the floor of your mouth to the bottom your tongue. This is called the lingual frenulum. The closer the frenulum is towards the tip of the tongue, the more difficulties there are when breastfeeding. These fall under the category referred to as tongue ties. This is how it looks like.
A lip tie is very similar except this frenulum usually extends from the gum attaching it to the inner membrane of the top lip. The closer the tissue is to the teeth, the more difficult it is for baby to establish a seal also leading to poor and inefficient breastfeeding because your baby is constantly slipping off the nipple. Babies usually improvise by gumming down on the nipple, just to stay latched, resulting in nipple pain for mom. This is how a lip tie looks like.
My pediatrician and multiple lactation consultants did not know how to correctly check for either, so the difficulty with breastfeeding and baby’s weight loss was often attributed to something being wrong with my milk, my supply or nipple confusion.
Do these sound familiar to you? Maybe your baby has a tongue tie or lip tie? Here are the typical signs and symptoms of a tongue tie (a lip tie is similar, just omit point 1)…
For the BEST illustration of this, check out this video:
What to expect…
II. Unable to Latch.
III. Painful Nursing.
VI. Low Milk Supply.
VII. Loss of Weight.
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You’re probably wondering just how long is a baby’s tongue supposed to be. Well, it should at least extend a good ways past baby’s lips. The correct way to nurse requires a lot of tongue movement. I never understood this until after we had gotten our baby’s tongue tie clipped. After the procedure, we started to notice her tongue (we hadn’t paid attention to it before because it wouldn’t stick out much out of her mouth, which we assumed was normal). Her tongue was pretty long!
Unable to Latch.
Babies use their tongue in order to latch correctly. I noticed that even if my baby wouldn’t open her mouth wide enough when latching. She’d be able to fix that shallow latch pretty quickly with the help of her tongue. Additionally, the baby would be constantly slipping off the nipple, so what would end up happening is that in order to actually nurse baby would have to gum down on your nipple. So, before the procedure, mamma’s nipples took a pretty hard beating each breastfeeding session!
As you can imagine, the wrong latch means that the seemingly enjoyable experience of breastfeeding turns into a nightmare. Another way you could tell that your baby has a tongue tie is the fact that the latching process is incredibly painful. Breastfeeding, generally, SHOULD NOT be a painful experience. If you are dreading every feeding because your nipples end up coming out of baby’s mouth flattened from chewing and with less tissue, then it might be time to think about a potential tongue tie culprit.
Nursing Long/ Falling Asleep While Nursing.
Since the baby isn’t properly latched, to begin with, the entire feeding becomes inefficient. Baby is struggling and working very hard to take out the milk, to the point that baby tires out before getting full. So what you end up having are long nursing sessions that usually end up with the baby falling asleep at the breast.
Always Feeding But Still Hungry.
Another consequence of inefficient feeding is the fact that baby falls asleep still hungry. So what ends up happening is that very soon after your baby falls asleep, they wake up hungrier than before. You go through this cycle of constantly feeding, very often, and having baby never getting actually full… and your nipples feel it every time! It’s like a never-ending cluster feed!
Low Milk Supply.
Milk supply is regulated by breastfeeding through the emptying out of your breasts. If milk isn’t being efficiently emptied from the breast, there is little stimulation for the production of milk. Your body starts to get signals that baby doesn’t need that much milk and so milk supply diminishes, furthermore complicating the problem. Baby ends up having less milk to work with, more inefficient milk expelling and then an even lower supply. If the mother ends up pumping and supplementing with their breastmilk, they could save their supply however if formula is used then supply often tanks without recovery. Often times, mothers unaware that their babies have a tongue tie, are barely able to make it to the 6th-month breastfeeding with little to no overall improvement breastfeeding and because their milk supply just isn’t adequate enough to feed the baby.
Loss of Weight.
You can imagine that baby’s weight loss would be a HUGE indication that feedings are just inadequate. The confusion arises from the fact that you know that baby is always feeding so they shouldn’t be losing weight. So you’ve probably been told that we’ll then you have a low milk supply or your milk just isn’t “fat” enough, or other things like that, when in fact no one bothered to check your baby for tongue tie (not even your decorated pediatrician!).
Engorgement and/or Mastitis.
Another consequence of inadequate emptying of the breasts is engorgement (basically your breasts feel incredibly hard with lumps, which are full, clogged milk ducts), and then if left untreated, mastitis (which is a terrible breast bacterial infection that could end up costing you your milk supply and making you feel very sick). Engorged breasts are even more difficult for a tongue-tied baby to latch onto so at this point your baby might not even be able to latch, which could even look like a baby undergoing nipple confusion because they’re just crying when put to the breast but easily take the bottle (which is what happened in my case. So, if your baby is always feeding yet always hungry, still losing weight and you have hard breasts… should start looking into the possibility of a tongue tie! Of course, if you’ve got a pump, this could be avoided, so that’s why you should definitely look into one just in case any breastfeeding complications arise.
The signs and symptoms of a tongue tie are evidently a cascade of effects stemming from the root cause of poor latch. It all starts from a bad latch! Definitely try to find a good lactation consultant so that they could help identify what’s causing difficulties for you breastfeeding, and ask about tongue tie! In my experience, no one brought it up if I didn’t first!
Well then, until next time!
Other posts you may find interesting:
- My Baby Refuses to Latch! How to Feed Baby Through a Nursing Strike.
- My Breastfeeding Story: How I Went from Supplementing to a 400 oz Stash in a Month
- Breastfeeding Survival Guide: 12 Things I Wish I Knew About Breastfeeding
- 11 Breastfeeding Essentials for First-Time Moms (And how to use them)
- Mom Hack: Surviving the Newborn Phase