Tongue Tie – For or Against?

My son has tongue tie. He is 10 months old and STILL has tongue tie.  It affects his feeding (both breast and bottle), weight gain and potentially (not proven) speech. Not to mention my ruined nipples, bashing my boobs in frustration, sleep deprivation, and the 1.5 hour feeds.

“Tongue Tie is the ‘conditions du jour’….” Local GP

So what is tongue tie?  Tongue tie occurs when the piece of skin under the tongue (Frenulum) is too short and tight, restricting the full movement of the tongue.

It affects approximately 1 in 7 babies and according to my GP it is the ‘conditions de jour – a bit like dairy intolerances’.  

Joseph was officially diagnosed with tongue tie when he was 8 weeks old by a private consultant.  Looking back he did not immediately show obvious symptoms of having tongue tie. I did not have painful/bleeding nipples and after a lot of practice (under the guidance of hospital lactation specialists) we figured out a ‘good looking’ latch and he did not lose too much birth weight.   However when I left the safe bosom of the postnatal ward – I noticed that most of the time he pissed about on my boob for AGES trying to latch. When he succeeded, the feed was noisy and LONG coupled with deep frustration (from both of us) and ultimately significant weight loss (Joe not me unfortunately). I put this down to the challenges of breastfeeding but I was determined to keep it up! I had struggled to feed with my eldest and I was irritated that second time around I was facing yet another breastfeeding dilemma.  I am neither a bottle advocate or boob ambassador but I enjoyed the ease of breastfeeding when it worked (no cleaning bottles) and if I am honest I felt the pressures of the health benefits

Joe’s weight loss was almost stealth like.  He sailed through the midwife check up and was signed off in a jiffy. She acknowledged that my feeds were long and that this was because Joe was a ‘sucky baby perhaps I should consider natural sucking aids’ (dummy or finger) but praised my persistence and encouraged me to attend my local breastfeeding cafe. Unbeknownst to me the ONLY local lactation specialist trained in diagnosing tongue tie was on holiday for a month. Unaware and un-diagnosed I dragged my sleepy ass to the breastfeeding cafe on a weekly basis, chatted to other sleep deprived mothers and worked on my latch and natural sucking aid routine (he hated the dummy).

“Mummy please stop booby feeding – I miss you” – My 3 year old Ella.

2 months in and a bout of Norovirus resulted in more weight loss, but it was my suffering relationship with my eldest daughter Ella which tipped me over the edge.  From day 1 She had embraced her younger brother and loved him more than anything.  However the hour long feeds were taking their toll and there was only so much ‘digital nanny’ that we could both bare. Thankfully sleep guru Heidi Skudder spotted the tongue tie and off I trotted to the GP.  With a tone of ‘join the club!’ my practitioner thought that Joe ‘might’ have tongue tie and steered me towards considering other feeding options like formula and eventually early weaning.  There was something perverse about giving this advice when surrounded by the surgeries ‘Breast is Best’ parafunalia.  This is where we fell into a patchy administrative black hole.  A referral to be diagnosed and cured on the NHS needed two recommendations from a lactation specialist (my local one was on holiday) and the waiting list was over 3 weeks.  I ended up paying around one hundred quid to go privately and Joe was officially diagnosed at 8 weeks old.

What next?

Tongue-tie is easily corrected with a simple, safe, and immediately effective surgical procedure called a Frenotomy. The doctor numbs the membrane with a topical anesthetic, then snips it with a pair of blunt-edged scissors. It takes just a second, and the pain is brief. However babies can be unsettled for 1-2 days afterwards, there is significant wound after care, bleeding and managing that with a frustrated 3 year old was unappealing.  Joseph was also, I don’t know, aware of things. He smiled, gurgled, interacted with me. The thought of putting him through that pain was heart breaking and I forgot to say –  it’s over 400 pounds for the service!  Huh??

As any parent would – we analysed the f*ck out the pros and cons.  400 is a lot of money! Would it work? (we knew some friends who observed no difference after the op).  The waiting list at my local hospital (Kings College – a pioneering hospital in tongue tie) was growing by the day and was there something in this surge of Frenulotomia? Was my GP right and it’s just the ‘conditions du jour’.  Three years ago when Ella was born I knew one person who had a baby with tongue tie.  Fast forward to March this year and everyone – I mean EVERYONE – either had or knew of a baby with tongue tie.  This surely means that the logistics around diagnosis is improving right? Or at worst – private hospitals are profiting from a rising condition, pressures to breast-feed, and hasty diagnosis?  Joseph had a mild to moderate tongue tie of which most children grow out of.

In the end I decided not to pay and wait for a free operation.  As it happens it took 6 weeks for anyone to call me.  By that time I was immersed in a routine of breast feeding, pumping and bottles, Joe’s weight was improving and I was spending more time with my daughter. We decided not to snip!

“Babies should be checked for tongue tie by a professional in the first week of birth”

If Joseph had been diagnosed earlier i.e within my first few days in hospital – I could have made a decision on what would have been a free, and painless procedure.  Instead I spent 3 days in hospital not being discharged until he fed properly.  That time could have been spent having the tongue tie corrected.   Instead Joe joined the many many babies who go un-diagnosed.  I think that midwives should be trained in checking for tongue tie or at least it should be part of the discharge process.

When to seek help?

So if you are still reading this. My advice to you is to ask after you have given birth for someone to check for tongue tie. You may as well ask right??    Also If you have pain when breastfeeding, nipple pain or trauma, a relentlessly poor latch, or a noisy clicking sound when they feed – it could be tongue tie.

So what next for Joseph?

I overwhelming believe that at the time I made the right decision. For now I am clinging onto the hope that many children grow out of it and have not latent issues (speech impediments and feeding problems).  That said – I do have a nagging feeling that perhaps I have let him down in some way.  I also fear that my eldest daughter may have tongue tie (she can not pronounce her P’s and struggles with many food textures, gagging etc).  I am also aware that I may have to deal with the issue in the future and the procedure will involve a general anesthetic and painful aftercare.  For now – his weight is perfect and he is fully weaned.  I have also got political and signed a petition to make tongue tie checks mandatory.  If you have time please share some love and sign this petition and also share any questions or stories of tongue tie.

More information

NHS Tongue Tie Information:

London Tongue Tie Clinic (Private)

What is Tongue Tie?

  • Toni Saunders
    Posted at 15:45h, 03 February Reply

    My son was born with tongue tie and was noticed straight away thankfully but then I was told they wouldn’t snip it as I was not breastfeeding feeding
    This I thought was unfair my reason for not breastfeeding feeding were personal and I felt it was unfair
    Thank God after a couple of weeks we noticed the problem had corrected itself and the midwife Saudi it does sometimes happen that it will break by itself

  • Roses Mac
    Posted at 16:42h, 04 March Reply

    Just to highlight that the voiceless bilabial plosive P does not involve the use of the articulators of the tongue for its production as it made with pushing air through the lips indeed the tongue plays no roll in this sound at all. So said persons daughters phonological speech delay is most likely unrelated to tongue tie.

    • Lucy
      Posted at 19:21h, 05 March Reply

      Hey Roses, Thank you so much for clarifying that. Really helpful

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