What If Your Baby Has A Tongue Tie?

tongue tie
Tongue tie is common in babies and can make feeding excruciatingly painful but surgery isn't the only way to treat it, says Anna Tyzack

It’s supposedly the most natural thing in the world but breastfeeding didn’t come easily to me.

In fact I didn’t get the hang of it at all with baby one AND baby two. When baby three latched on within the first few moments of being born, I realised that maybe it was them, not me.

Still, it wasn’t all plain sailing with baby three, either. Within a few days my nipples were shredded and he was diagnosed with a tongue tie. A 100 per cent tongue tie, in fact, which meant that his tongue was connected to the bottom of his mouth by a piece of tissue, making it very difficult for him to feed efficiently.

God it was excruciating. There is honestly nothing like the agony of painful breastfeeding. I felt genuine fear before each feed.

His tongue tie was diagnosed by the visiting midwife. I was given two options: wait for an appointment at the hospital to get it cut, or book a private appointment with someone who cuts it in your home. I went for the second option, and then ended up going for the first a few weeks later because the tongue tie grew back.

There is honestly nothing like the agony of painful breastfeeding. I felt genuine fear before each feed.

Both times the procedure was so quick he barely noticed it (I was much more troubled by the whole thing than he was) and there was very little blood.

BUT the feeding pain didn’t go away straight away. It took him time to make the most of his newly released tongue. Seven months later we were still breastfeeding, though, so I think that the surgery must have done something – although it could also be that he grew stronger and more co-ordinated.

I should just add that while we were struggling to get breastfeeding going he had numerous bottles of both expressed milk and formula and several times I gave up breastfeeding only to start again a couple of days later. There’s definitely no harm at all in mixing bottles and breastfeeding when things aren’t going well.

When baby four was diagnosed with a tongue tie, I was keen to wait and see if we could get away without the surgery. The midwife I saw agreed with me that tongue ties are over diagnosed, and many mums find their babies can feed perfectly well even if they do have a partial tongue tie.

He did get the hang of feeding. He was so good at it in fact that he never even lost weight after the birth. Yet his feeding style was NOT good for me.

After a couple of weeks we ended up in A and E with blood pouring from his mouth and black poo in his nappies, terrified that he was suffering some kind of haemorrhage. The horrified doctors eventually realised it was my blood rather than his that was causing the problem and I was permitted to stop breastfeeding for a few days while my “significantly damaged” nipples healed up.

At this stage I called on the expertise of breastfeeding specialist, Heidi Nowlany who suggested he see a cranial osteopath to relieve the tightness in his neck and jaw. Osteopathy can improve feeding mechanics in a baby as much as a tongue tie operation, she says.

Osteopathy can improve feeding mechanics in a baby as much as a tongue tie operation

She did assure me, however, that in my baby’s case, a tongue tie operation would also most likely improve the feeding. (More on Heidi’s game changing help in a later post). She recommended laser surgery with Dr Malcolm Levinkind but due to the cost of private laser procedure we ended up in the tongue tie clinic at St Thomas’s Hospital after all.

Covid has made a lot of maternity stuff very challenging but, at least in this part of London, it has improved the tongue tie experience significantly.

He refused to feed – I think he was in shock – but when we got home and he was over the trauma, feeding felt a little more comfortable.

Last time I had to wait in a production line of other new mums; when I reached the surgeon, he took my baby, snipped, and then handed him back to me.

This time we got to wait in our own room before being shown into a small operating theatre where the surgeon talked me through the procedure, carried it out incredibly quickly (there was only a drop of blood and a tiny bit of crying, but that was probably just because it wasn’t such a major tongue tie) and then showed us back to our private room to see a breastfeeding expert.

He refused to feed – I think he was in shock – but when we got home and he was over the trauma, feeding felt a little more comfortable.

Again, the pain didn’t disappear straight away – a pair of Boots nipple shields were my saviour – but after each session with cranial osteopath, Katie Oswell, he opened his jaw wider and now, six weeks in, I can type this while he feeds. Unimaginable during those first agonising days.

If you’re struggling like me, I’d say get all the help you can. And if the help isn’t helping, get different help. There’s no shame in giving up on breastfeeding like I did (twice), but if you want to breastfeed, it’s worth persevering.

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