TONGUE TIE: What does it mean, causes and how do you know if your baby has it?

Everything you need to know about tongue tie...

Tongue tie is a condition which affects 4 - 11% of newborn babies in the UK, and yet it's often not diagnosed as soon as it should be.

Here's everything you need to know about tongue tie - from what it is, to the symptoms, and how to get help...

What is tongue tie?

Tongue tie - known medically as ankyloglossia - is where the strip of skin between a baby’s tongue and the floor of their mouth is shorter than usual and almost cord-like. This can have a big impact on breastfeeding, as it can restrict the movement of the tongue and mean a baby is unable to open its mouth wide enough to latch.

What are the symptoms of tongue tie?

A baby with tongue tie is likely to have trouble latching onto the breast and even a bottle. As a result, they can struggle to gain weight. The baby may also suffer from wind, as they can take in too much air, and they can either fall asleep before the end of a feed or feeds can last well beyond the average 20-45 minutes. The mother can also experience pain when feeding and, as breastmilk is supply on demand, can find it difficult to get a good supply going. If left untreated, in some cases the baby can go on to suffer speech problems later in life.

How many babies are diagnosed with tongue tie each year?

According to the NHS, between four and 11 per cent of babies born in the UK each year suffer from tongue tie. There are around 700,000 live births in England and Wales alone every year, meaning up to 77,000 babies will be born with tongue tie.

Why do so many cases of tongue tie go undiagnosed?

Although on paper tongue tie looks fairly common, there are not enough NHS professionals trained to diagnose and treat it. Frustratingly, it doesn't fall into the routine checks made on all newborns, and, as a result, often goes unnoticed at first. The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) explain: “Current NHS treatment is often patchy and sometimes non-existent.”

How is tongue tie treated?

Once diagnosed, babies with tongue tie can be treated with a simple procedure called a division or a ‘snip’. Trained medics simply cut the tight cord, and the procedure takes just seconds. Although there can sometimes be a small amount of blood, the operation is thought to be relatively painless due to a lack of nerve-endings in that area.

What should you do if you think your baby has tongue tie?

Do not suffer in silence. If you think your baby could have tongue tie, contact your GP, midwife or health visitor immediately. Local Breastfeeding Cafes can offer advice and help, or you can contact Lactation Consultants Of Great Britain to find a consultant near you. The NCT also has breastfeeding counsellors on hand to offer support.

What is being done to improve tongue-tie diagnosis in the UK?

The NCT has written to the Government, calling for more medics to be trained to diagnose and treat tongue tie. If you'd like to support this, the organisation has a template letter, which you can download and send to your local MP.

New dad Andy Johnson-Creek has also started a petition, calling for all maternity units in the UK to check every newborn for tongue tie and treat it accordingly. He explained: “New mothers are put under immense pressure to breastfeed their babies. Although it is changing, there is a perception that bottle feeding early on is failing as a mother. But a tongue tied baby means breastfeeding can be a torturous ordeal every few hours. As a new dad, I've seen this first hand and it's awful.” You can sign Andy’s petition here.

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