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My Baby is Tongue-Tied: What You Need to Know About Infant Ankyloglossia

As an obstetrical RN of 29 years, I have much insight to share with fellow nurses and new moms.

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What to Do If Your Infant Is Tongue-tied

Ankyloglossia, known as "tongue-tie" in children, is a congenital oral anomaly that may decrease the mobility of the tongue's tip. It's caused by an unusually short, thick lingual frenulum, the membrane connecting the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.

Having two sons with Ankyloglossia, I can attest to the difficulties and challenges it causes for breastfeeding, speech, and eating certain foods if not addressed early. A tongue-tied infant can make breastfeeding extremely painful and may lead to the mother giving up within a few hours to a few days.

Because a Lactation Consultant spotted the issue with my fourth child, I promptly saw a dentist with experience working with Ankyloglossia. Within three days of birth, we were in the dental chair to snip my baby's tongue-tie. I nursed my son immediately following the procedure to help with bleeding and soothe his discomfort. I was amazed at how easily my son latched on and how much less pain I felt as he sucked. That was 25 years ago, so it's fantastic to see this be the recommended standard practice today.

My dear friend, former co-worker, and one of the most phenomenal nurses I've had the pleasure to know and work with, Rebecca (Becky) Boyd, BSN, RN, IBCLC, is the source of this informative article. The best part is this very personal story is Becky's patient, Kailin, who graciously gave me her story to share. This article's end is a video on Ankyloglossia featured at the Colorado State AWHONN Convention in April 2019.

Kailin, her husband David, and their sons Michah, Jude, and Lucas.

Kailin, her husband David, and their sons Michah, Jude, and Lucas.

A Mother's Journey With Three Tongue-Tied Infants (Shared With Permission)

It's an honor to share my breastfeeding and Ankylglossia journey with you. My name is Kailin Hamilton, Registered Dietitian, IBCLC, and Chair of the Northern Colorado Breastfeeding Coalition. I worked for WIC as a dietitian and lactation consultant before stepping down in 2017 when our third son was born. I wanted to stay home with our three boys, who, at the time, were: Micah 6, Jude 3, and Luke 1.

Micah

Micah was born in 2013. At three days old, my nipples were cracked and bleeding. I bought "soothies" for relief between feedings. His latch looked good from the outside, but I couldn't figure out why I was in pain. By day five, it was so painful my eyes filled with tears. Micah was jaundiced too, and his feedings took 45 minutes every 1-2 hours. I knew something was wrong, despite the positive exterior latch.

When he cried, I noticed his tongue was heart-shaped. I called the hospital and made an appointment with an IBCLC, Becky. (IBCLC stands for International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners®). Little did I know the support I'd receive for years to come from this dear woman. She agreed His pediatrician should assess Micah's tongue. I felt hopeful we'd find relief.

The pediatrician looked at Micah's tongue and said he had a tongue tie. He said it "wouldn't affect breastfeeding, and cutting the tongue would only be a cosmetic fix. He also said, "give it time, and it won't feel difficult once my hormones calm down." I'd just finished feeding Micah when he spits up my blood! Through tears, my husband and I listened to our gut and had the doctor proceed to cut the tongue-tie. I was hoping it'd be smooth sailing from here.

After a week, I was still in pain and noticed a growing red area on my left breast. I made another appointment with Becky, and she agreed I had mastitis. I saw my doctor, and sure enough, both breasts were infected, and I started antibiotics. I felt like we were moving in the right direction as the mastitis cleared up, but I was still in much pain when feeding.

My midwife prescribed Newman's Nipple Cream. I started this cream, and it provided incredible relief. But, after another week, I still wasn't healing, and the pain was getting worse. My midwife said the damage was so bad they'd use stitches if it were anywhere else on my body. She advised me to begin pumping and feeding Micah from a bottle.

For four weeks, I pumped every three hours around the clock. I got just what Micah needed and not a drop more, so I never got ahead. At week two of pumping and not healing, Becky called to say an ingredient in the Newman's Nipple Cream may be preventing me from healing since the wounds were so intense. I stopped using the cream immediately.

Becky suggested having Micah assessed for a labial frenulum (upper lip). Sure enough, his upper frenulum made it impossible for his upper lip to latch on properly. I next visited an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist, to have the frenulum assessed and potentially clipped. We saw two ENT specialists, and the first said, "fixing the lip tie won't help him breastfeed." The second ENT specialist (in the same office) felt it would make a difference and proceeded to cut his upper lip frenulum.

Once my nipples healed, I stopped pumping and resumed breastfeeding. My nipples were finally better, but I experienced a different pain since stopping the antibiotics for mastitis, assuming this was part of the healing process. I described the pain as feeling like fiberglass in my ducts when I'd nurse and randomly when I wasn't.

I consulted my favorite IBCLC, Becky, who agreed it was thrush. For months I tried everything to get rid of it. Vinegar was number one (everything that touched my breasts or Micah's mouth got washed with vinegar), soap, bleach, grapefruit seed extract, Fluconazole, Nystatin, changing my diet, boiling pump parts, etc. It was exhausting. The thrush and pain went away when Micah was five months old.

We went on to breastfeed until Micah was two. It was an incredibly long journey and a steep learning curve for breastfeeding. I'm so thankful for the support we had to do this.

Jude

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Since breastfeeding was so tricky with Micah, I felt apprehensive the second time with my son, Jude. Jude was born on the side of the road in our car! Long story short, Jude's birth was incredibly fast, we lived 30 minutes from the hospital, and we didn't make it in time.

Once we knew he was ok, I looked into his mouth while he was crying, and sure enough, he had that distinct heart-shaped tongue. We ended up at a hospital we didn't plan on, and I worried the doctors wouldn't see the value in assessing his tongue/lip--but we had an incredibly different experience!

Our doctor discharged us as soon as possible, with a referral to Dr. Scott Williams (a dentist in Greeley), who saw us on day two. Breastfeeding had that familiar pain, and I started to get cracks. Using a laser, he took care of both his tongue and lip. Breastfeeding immediately felt better and with much less pain!

We still had a few minor bumps along the road, including returning a few weeks later when his tongue-tie healed tightly to laser his tongue again. Because we took care of his lip and tongue early and before it cascaded into other problems, we could breastfeed mostly without pain for 16 months.

Luke

When we learned we were pregnant with our third child, I prayed he wouldn't have this same problem--but he did. Since I'd learned so much with our previous experiences, I immediately took him off the breast, hand expressed, and used a cup or syringe to finish his feedings. His tongue and lip were, by far, the tightest of all.

Luke and I had a long and happy time with breastfeeding. We drove to Denver when Luke was only a few days old and saw Dr. Witkoff. He used a cold laser to cut both his lip and his tongue. It was our best experience with healing and my most uncomplicated breastfeeding journey.

I'm thankful to live with access to knowledgeable professionals like Becky and Dr. Witkoff. The biggest lesson I've learned in our breastfeeding journeys is the invaluable role support plays. I credit our breastfeeding success to the support I received and can never fully express my gratitude.

Photos of Lucas Being Diagnosed by Dr. Jesse Witkoff, DDS

Photos of Lucas Being Diagnosed by Dr. Jesse Witkoff, DDS

I highly recommend watching this 23-minute video presentation below on "Infant Ankyloglossia," presented by Rebecca (Becky) Boyd, RN BSN, IBCLC. As discussed in the story above, Becky is the lactation consultant who helped Kailin with all three of her babies.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2020 Debra Roberts

Comments

Lyosha on May 26, 2020:

I never knew this issue existed! Thanks to you I know it’s possible now! It’s important to know and deal with. I think breastfeeding journey is a important and needed if could be done

Michele on May 26, 2020:

I have never heard of this. I am so glad you noticed something wrong and took the initiative.

Tracy @ Cleland Clan on May 26, 2020:

Being tongue-tied runs in our family. My mom and grandmother checked every newborn to make sure they didn't have it. It's good to know they still clip them.

Erica (The Prepping Wife) on May 26, 2020:

I didn't know that tongue-tied was an actual medical condition! I've learned something, as I usually do with your posts. It's always been something I've heard people joke about when trying to say a tongue twister or even just mispronouncing something. The actual condition sounds horrible for both mom and baby. I'm so glad you were able to figure out what was going on and have it taken care of.

Kathrin S on May 26, 2020:

Very interesting post, I hadn't ever heard about this before but it is definitely really important info for parents since early intervention can curb problems like this before they get worse.

Melanie williams on May 26, 2020:

This is such a great post to raise awareness and what to do when or if you do. Love the family photo too by the way

Lyosha on May 26, 2020:

I have to say I didn't know such issue actually existed. thank for sharing your experience!

Kay on May 25, 2020:

Although you had so many situations that made breastfeeding difficult, you persevered. Its great that you've written this as many women may not notice the signs and give up on their dream of breastfeeding their child, not realising there is something they can do to help very quickly. Great post.

jerry godinho on May 24, 2020:

Thanks for posting about this. I have never heard about this syndrome. I like your detailed write up and the more i read it i am amazed about the human body and how it all works. I want to thank you for this lovely article and will show it to my wife. thanks Jerry Godinho

Nina Nichols on May 23, 2020:

This is such an informative piece of article. It's good that you immediately noticed the problem with your son. I believe early intervention is very helpful to help a child.

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