Breastfeeding Challenges: When Baby Has a Tongue-Tie |

Breastfeeding Challenges: When Baby Has a Tongue-Tie

Breastfeeding is a joyous and simultaneously unnerving feature of motherhood. Physically, it established a foundation of nutritional health that can have a positive impact on the child into adulthood. It often goes unnoticed by society however it is the very foundation of a child’s emerging nutritional health that determines much of how the child’s future overall health will be into adulthood. Emotionally, there are strong bonds that are built between mother and child when there is skin-to-skin contact and time spent breastfeeding. And there are spiritual benefits that are also illuminated in the Quran. 

And We have commanded people to ˹honour˺ their parents. Their mothers bore them through hardship upon hardship, and their weaning takes two years. So be grateful to Me and your parents. To Me is the final return. 

(Surah Luqman, 31:14)

As any mother who has nursed before knows, it can be difficult to get through the day. Having to sit down to feed your child every few hours entails checking the baby’s hunger cues, remembering when he/she last fed, finding a spot to cover and nurse the child, and then having to replenish herself with water and a snack because one knows how hungry we get after a session! It is a full-time job to say the least. And this is when everything is going smoothly!

The experience with my first child proved to be tough because of a common problem newborns have. 

When Baby Has a Tongue-Tie 

My child was born underweight with low glucose, prompting us to stay a day longer at the hospital. He was also born with a tongue tie (medically known as ankyloglossia) which is when the band of tissue that holds the tongue to the floor of the mouth is unusually short, making it hard for the baby to breastfeed, and even speak. The problem is more common in boys and can even have a genetic component. It can resolve on its own by the age of two or three, however,  intervention at an early age may be necessary. 

In my baby’s case, however, he was not latching onto me properly nor was he gaining the required weight for his age. He was often hungry and not sleeping well at night, which had me worried for several weeks. It is important to share my journey to resolve his nursing issue to help others who may also be experiencing these challenges.

In Canada, a lactation nurse (aka lactation consultant) visits you a few hours after giving birth to your child. They teach you how a baby should latch on to breastfeed and what cues to look for when the baby is hungry or full. They also guide you on what normal colostrum and breastmilk looks like, and what to do when the child cluster feeds in the early days. Cluster feeding is when your baby wants many short feeds over a few hours, which can be a daunting experience for any new mother. It was a lactation nurse who brought my attention to my baby’s tongue tie. She said some babies can have issues with feeding, so if mine did, then I could visit a Lactation Clinic in the future to figure out some solutions. 

As I mentioned, my first baby had a very difficult time latching on. My husband often helped him latch on for almost every feed in the first few weeks. I had learned from the Lactation Nurse about the many ways to hold the baby while feeding. There was only one way that worked for me for the first month - the “football hold.” This is where you hold the baby’s body in your forearm and wrap him/her to the side of your body and feed. It was the most unusual hold but the easiest for me at the time. I wondered if nursing could possibly be this hard for every breastfeeding mother and child. Fairly cautioned by the first lactation nurse,  I visited a municipal clinic to get some further help.

Use of a Shield 

My child’s consistent failure to latch properly meant that he got less milk each session or took longer to feed, hitting almost an hour to an hour and a half. This situation had caused me to produce more milk than was needed causing mastitis, and chafing to the point that I started to dread the next feeding session. The visit to the clinic was helpful because they had suggested either getting the tongue-tie snipped or using a nipple shield to see if that makes any progress first. If I chose to snip, they gave me information to visit The Doctors’ Breastfeeding Clinic [] where doctors exclusively focused on maternal and infant care with regards to breastfeeding issues. 

I opted to try a nipple shield first. A shield helps to cover the chafed area and allows your baby to feed through it without chafing you further. I would apply some lanolin nipple cream to soothe the area, which also helped attach the shield. For some time, this solution worked because my son latched on with ease, my abrasion healed, and the milk production regulated. As a temporary solution, he reached his required weight range.

However, there is a downside to using the shield long term. The milk flow will eventually decrease over time because, according to the scientific journal, PLoS One, baby saliva reacts with the mother’s breast milk which then provides the necessary nutrients and immunity cells to the baby.1 Therefore, if the baby’s saliva is not directly interacting with the mother because of the barrier, then the chemical messages will not be passed on and the body will stop producing milk overall. Going to The Doctors’ Breastfeeding Clinic was my last step in deciding what to do with the tongue-tie issue. 

The Decision to Snip 

The Doctors Breastfeeding Clinic was a great relief as they were more attuned to breastfeeding issues than general physicians. They weighed my baby, checked all his vitals, and observed how he breastfed on me. They listened to my challenges from the last two months. They said snipping the tongue-tie - called a frenectomy - was worth a try. It was a quick procedure with quick healing. I agreed to go ahead with it and they gave me the referral to the doctor or dentist who conducted these procedures. The procedure is also covered by OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan - fully covered by the provincial government; check if your province does the same). They said to come back in a few weeks to follow up on any changes in his feeding ability. 

We went to the physician soon after. My child was only 2-months-old at the time. The procedure included local anesthesia and a snipping tool. The doctor put a cloth on his mouth right away to stop the bleeding. My child did react with some crying but the bleeding stopped soon after. He was fussy that night from the pain but giving him Tylenol soothed him. He would feel some pain while feeding but the action soothed him as well. Within a week or so he was latching on with ease and feeding well! He steadily gained weight and finally reached the target range for his age, alhamdulillah, All Praises is to Allah. The followup appointment with the Doctor’s Breastfeeding Clinic indicated they were happy to see the results. 

There are many resources available to breastfeeding mothers nowadays if you or someone you know is ever in this position. Whether you do or do not have any issues, lactation nurses are a great asset and support for your breastfeeding journey. Through them, you will be able to learn about methods or procedures, and find more resources such as doctors focused solely on maternal and infant health. I hope all mothers are able to enjoy the blessings of breastfeeding on a child-bonding and religious level, inshaAllah, God-willing. 

For Further Reading

End Notes

1 Breastmilk-Saliva Interactions Boost Innate Immunity by Regulating the Oral Microbiome in Early Infancy

What is a Frenotomy? 

What To Expect With An Infant Frenectomy

Add new comment