Of all the things you can worry about when your baby is born, their tongue probably isn’t on the top of your potential list of challenges. And yet, tongue-tie is sometimes one of the first surprises of motherhood. If you’re unfamiliar with the term — or its scientific counterpart, ankyloglossia — you’re probably wondering how to tell if baby is tongue-tied. So, let’s talk tongue-ties, shall we?
Before we begin, we’d be remiss not to mention that some babies with tongue-tie aren’t bothered by it at all. It’s a non-issue. However, since it can present issues with feeding, and your baby’s ability to breastfeed in particular, let’s take a closer look at the condition.
How to Tell If Baby Is Tongue-Tied
According to the Mayo Clinic, tongue-tie occurs when “an unusually short, thick, or tight band of tissue (lingual frenulum) tethers the bottom of the tongue’s tip to the floor of the mouth.” In other words, the tongue is sort of anchored in place in children who are tongue-tied. As far as what this looks like, well, you’d have to get pretty up close and personal to really see. But, here are a few possible indicators:
- If a child tries to stick their tongue out and it appears misshapen or heart-shaped — not to mention unable to stick out very far at all — they might have tongue-tie.
- A baby with a tongue-tie may have difficulty lifting their tongue upward or moving it from side to side as well.
What Causes Tongue-Tie in Babies
Curious why some babies are born tongue-tied and others aren’t? Typically, the frenulum thins out and recedes before delivery. However, sometimes that simply doesn’t happen and, when that’s the case, a baby is born with tongue-tie. Interesting fact: Tongue-tie often runs in families. While experts aren’t completely clear on why it happens, they do note that some cases of tongue-tie have been linked to genetic factors. Another interesting bit of intel? Tongue-tie is more common in boys than in girls.
When it comes to tongue-tie, anyone can wind up with this condition. Per the Mayo Clinic, though, it’s more common in boys than girls and can run in families. So, if your mom or brother has a tongue tie, your child may have a slightly higher chance of turning up with a tongue-tie, too.
Complications Associated With Tongue-Tie
While some babies with tongue-tie seem to suffer no adverse effects, other babies’ oral development is compromised. Breastfeeding trouble is one of the most commonly associated problems, as your baby may have trouble keeping their tongue in the right position. However, tongue-tie in babies may also lead to problems with speech and oral hygiene.
If your baby has tongue-tie, you may find out during their newborn physical. Alas, because tongue-tie can be inherently concealed by your baby’s mouth, it may be overlooked. So, if you notice anything that seems to be pointing toward tongue-tie, you should see your baby’s doctor for a proper diagnosis. Signs to look out for include difficulty breastfeeding, problems with speech, and pain in the tongue.
Treatment for Tongue-Tie
So long as baby isn’t experiencing any negative side effects from their tongue-tie, you may not have to do anything. However, if their feeding or speech are suffering, it may be time to discuss possible options with the pediatrician. Fortunately, the treatment for tongue-tie is a fairly simple procedure called a tongue-tie division or “tongue-clipping”.
You can probably guess what this involves, right? In this procedure, doctors cut the short, tight frenulum piece. There are two versions of this procedure: a frenotomy and a frenuloplasty. And whole that probably sounds like a great big “yowch,” but a frenotomy is actually quick, easy, and practically painless. There aren’t very many nerve endings around the bottom of the mouth. It’s so painless, in fact, that it’s usually performed on infants with either no anesthetic or just a local anesthetic. Even better? The benefits to baby’s feeding patterns should improve almost immediately.
As for a frenuloplasty, it’s a bit more complicated. This more extensive procedure may be recommended if the frenulum is too thick for a frenotomy. It involves general anesthesia and surgical tools, along with stitches to close up the wound.
Again, though, anytime you have concerns about your baby’s wellbeing — whether it concerns their mouth or their motor skills — don’t hesitate to bring them up at your little nugget’s next well visit.