Adam’s Tongue and Lip Tie: Part 1

When I shared Adam’s birth story, I mentioned briefly that Adam had been diagnosed with lip and tongue tie. Today, as he turns five months old, I’ve decided to share his (and our) experience with that in a three-part series. This first part will deal with the initial diagnosis of his lip and tongue tie.

I vividly remember the first time I nursed Adam. We had just had an intense and beautiful birth experience, and I was so excited to get breastfeeding going because it’s one of my most favorite things about my children’s early lives. So I had set up this expectation that because we had an all-natural, drug-free birth in the comfort of our own home, we would definitely have a smooth-sailing, drama-free breastfeeding experience.

I was wrong.

I latched him on…and there was pain. More pain than there should have been, even considering the 5 years I hadn’t been breastfeeding prior to Adam’s arrival. So I unlatched him, and tried again. And again. And again. Hey, maybe I just got the position a little wrong. Maybe the angles were a bit awkward. My belly’s in the way, maybe it’s that? I remember turning to Dan, finally, once Adam got so frustrated and I let him latch on even though it was excruciating (DO NOT ever do this. That much pain is a sign of a bad latch, and it will lead to sore nipples quicker than you can say “ouch”). I looked Dan in the eyes, and with tears in mine, I said “Something’s wrong. I think he has tongue tie.”

Now, mind you, in my years of being a breastfeeding advocate, I have only come across mothers with tongue-tied babies twice. It’s something so rare in my mind that it’s just not the immediate diagnosis I would go to when there’s a painful latch. I’d look at positioning, flanged lips, the movement of the child’s jaw and cheeks. And if all was okay, then the latch is technically correct, right? Wrong. It can look perfect – like Adam’s latch – but the pain is in no way normal and is definitely indicative of something wrong on a deeper level.

So what are the symptoms of tongue- and/or lip-tie in a baby? Note that you won't necessarily experience all these symptoms (Source: Australian Breastfeeding Association):

  • nipple pain and damage (this included cracked, bleeding nipples for me)
  • the nipple looks flattened after breastfeeding (this is often referred to as "lipstick nipple" because the ends of the nipples look like the ends of a lipstick)
  • you can see a compression/stripe mark on the nipple at the end of a breastfeed (this was very obvious for me)
  • baby keeps losing suction while feeding and/or makes a clicking sound when feeding
  • baby fails to gain weight well
Here's what a tongue tie looks like:
SOURCE: Jessica Barton of Santa Barbara Lactation. Link to her fantastic article HERE.
Here's what a lip tie looks like (Adam had both tongue AND lip tie):

SOURCE: Dr Ghaheri's website, which is one of the best resources for tongue and lip ties out there. Link HERE.
And here's how tongue tie can affect a baby's latch:
Can you see how shallow the latch becomes?
The nipples are sucked only far back enough to reach the hard palate. OUCH.
Source: Dr Ghaheri's website again. Link HERE.
Aside from the immediate impact it would have on breastfeeding, in the long run, an unrectified tongue tie could cause problems in chewing, speech, and even kissing. Dental problems also occur in a lot of children and adults with tongue ties, as their tongues cannot properly aid in moving food around (and off of) teeth. In Adam's case, his lip tie would have also caused a gap to form between his two front teeth. Click HERE for more information on the long-term effects of tongue and lip ties.

I feel so fortunate to have had the benefit of experience when it comes to breastfeeding, so I immediately recognized that something was off. I can imagine that someone completely new to it would just think it’s normal pain (btw, no pain is normal – seek help from a certified Lactation Consultant ASAP if there is any pain at all), and just assume that’s how it’s meant to be.

In my case, I knew something was wrong but I also knew the important next step was getting an official diagnosis. I got this the very next day, when my midwife and maternal-child health nurse Andrea (yes, she is both!) came over to check on us. She checked Adam’s mouth and immediately saw that he had a tongue tie, and what looked like a lip tie as well. It was still upsetting to hear, even though I had already guessed what it was. I think a major part of my frustration was the expectation in my mind of having that perfect breastfeeding experience. But I had to accept that it wasn’t going to happen, and move onto the next step: treatment.

At this point we had no idea how serious it was or how it would affect breastfeeding. Andrea asked that we wait a couple of days before deciding whether or not to schedule Adam for a frenectomy (also known as a frenotomy), a procedure where they essentially cut off the ties. However, I barely waited a single night before texting Andrea to get me that appointment, because my nipples had become so injured that they had started to bleed. Yeah…not pleasant.

So what happened next? Wait for Part 2 where I share how I coped with Adam's tongue and lip tie during the pre-operative period.

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For more information on tongue and/or lip ties, please visit this KellyMom page which is a treasure trove of excellent resources on the topic!

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