When the lactation consultant told me that my daughter was tongue tied, I honestly felt a little relieved. Finally, there was a cause behind our breastfeeding troubles. And if there was a cause, there was a solution.
Unfortunately, diagnosing her tongue tie was the easy part. Between insurance issues and overbooked schedules, finding a provider was a Herculean task that took us an exasperating two weeks to complete. In the meantime, I had to cope with breastfeeding a tongue tied baby.
If your baby was diagnosed with tongue tie, you face the difficult choice between a frenotomy and coping with your child’s unique anatomy. Either way, breastfeeding a tongue tied baby can be frustrating and feel next to impossible.
It isn’t. You can get through this! These tips made a world of difference for me, and I think they can help you too.
- 10 Signs Your Baby Has a Tongue Tie
- How to Get a Breastfed Baby to Sleep Through the Night
- Struggling with Breastfeeding? This Class Can Help
Breastfeeding and Tongue Tie: How to Do It Without the Pain
This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase from one of the links I will make a small commission at no charge to you. I only recommend what I trust. Blunders in Babyland does not diagnose, treat, or give out any professional advice for any medical conditions.
Tongue Tie and Breastfeeding: Complications
Chances are, you’ve already done your fair share of research on tongue tie, or ankyloglossia. If you’re new to this whole thing, let me give you the skinny.
Essentially, the little flap of skin under your baby’s tongue is too short to allow a full range of motion necessary for efficient breastfeeding.
Your baby might have an anterior or posterior tongue tie. My lactation consultant explained that a posterior tongue tie is particularly difficult to diagnose because it is covered by a submucosal membrane. To further complicate things, many tongue tied babies also suffer from a lip tie. Breastfeeding a lip tied baby can cause additional challenges to work through.
If your baby has a tongue tie or lip tie, you’ll probably recognize these challenges:
- Snack Feeding-Tongue tied babies are frequently labeled “lazy eaters.” Since they are unable to create an effective suction with their tongue, tongue tied babies struggle to nurse efficiently. The real troubles start after six weeks, when your milk supply regulates and any overactive letdown diminishes. By this point, your baby’s muscles are underdeveloped and she’s dependent on your letdown reflex. This causes a startling pattern of 5-10 minute snack feeds. This is exhausting for everybody involved.
- Shallow (Painful) Latch– Many babies with tongue tie have severely inhibited tongue mobility. They are unable to open their mouth wide enough to form a proper latch. They tend to go for the nipple instead, which causes most of the pain for mom as well as milk production issues. When breastfeeding a tongue tied baby, everyone suggests focusing on a deep, correct latch. Given your baby’s limitations, this is harder than it sounds.
- Exhaustion-Tongue tied babies also tire very quickly. When your baby creates a vacuum with his lips, rather than his tongue, he expends double the energy. This results in snack feedings and a cranky, exhausted baby.
Make no mistake, tongue tie is a disability, and there is nothing wrong with adjusting your nursing routine to accommodate your child’s needs.
Related Post: 10 Hidden Tongue Tie Symptoms You Need to Know About
6 Essential Tips for Breastfeeding a Tongue Tied Baby
1: Use a Nipple Shield
Using a nipple shield comes with a couple caveats: Use the nipple shield under the direction of a certified lactation consultant and as sparingly as possible.
A nipple shield is a clear, silicon barrier that suctions to the breast. The shield encases your nipple, preventing your baby from gumming it. This is one of the most common causes of pain when breastfeeding a tongue tied baby.
Although this is the first item on my list, it is usually considered the last resort. The main issue with nipple shields is weaning. If introduced too early or used too much, it can cause nipple confusion.
The other downfall is intake and production. The lack of nipple stimulation can lower milk production over time. You can see why this might be problematic, since milk production can suffer because of the tongue tie.
Still, nipple shields can alleviate your pain so that you can temporarily continue breastfeeding.
RELATED POST: The Best Nipple Shields for Breastfeeding Moms
2: Use of Plenty of Nipple Butter
Breastfeeding a tongue tied baby is usually accompanied with raw, abused nipples. Even after you’ve opted for a frenectomy, you might experience discomfort for a few weeks (sometimes months) afterwards. Other moms find that the pain is alleviated immediately after the procedure.
In any case, your nipples are raw, bleeding, or scabbed, invest in some quality nipple butter.
The best nipple butter I’ve found is Motherlove Nipple Cream. It’s organic, lanolin-free, safe for your baby, and incredibly hydrating.
Just remember to sterilize your nipples after every session and use a nursing pad afterward to provide a dry environment for your breasts to heal.
PIN IT FOR LATER!
3: Supplement with the Bottle
There’s no shame in feeding your baby with a bottle. Many tongue-tied babies are unable to latch correctly (and therefore drain your breasts efficiently). Sometimes, supplementing with bottled breastmilk is absolutely necessary.
I hated the idea of nursing every 1.5 hours. It was exhausting for both of us. So, to ensure that my baby was getting enough to drink, I pumped beforehand and topped off our nursing sessions with expressed milk. This allowed us to go 2-2.5 hours between nursings.
This technique also emptied my breasts, maintained my supply, and reduced the risk of developing mastitis.
4: Feed, Wake, Feed, Sleep
If you’ve been to my blog before and have read my baby sleep posts, you probably know that I love a Feed-Wake-Sleep schedule. This routine was a complete life-saver for me and my daughter. It helped my daughter develop healthy sleep patterns and gave me the freedom I needed to flourish as a new mom.
Having said that, in the height of our little tongue tie crisis, we had to modify it for survival.
Sneaking two feedings into your baby’s wake time can help spread apart nursing sessions and give your baby the food he needs to thrive. For example, my daughter and I nursed immediately after waking (around ten minutes), I changed her diaper, had a short playtime, and then topped her off with a second feeding. I started our nap ritual directly afterward but would not allow her to follow asleep at my breast.
Just a final note: I believe this technique is a great temporary fix but should not be used long-term. Depending on the length between the initial feeding and the next, and the duration of your baby’s wake cycle, you can run the risk of a developing a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance or creating a nurse/sleep association.
5: Add an Additional Feeding
As you’re probably already finding out, breastfeeding a tongue tied baby requires a little more focus on ensuring caloric intake.
Sometimes your baby just isn’t capable of taking in the necessary ounces in a single feeding. I’ve found that it’s easier to plan for extra feedings, rather than deal with random ones throughout the day (or night!).
One technique I used was cluster-feeding. Cluster feeding is breastfeeding with shorter intervals between feeds. This is usually done in the evening, a couple hours before your bedtime session. (If this sounds a little confusing, The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems has a GREAT tutorial on it).
For example, our first “cluster feed” was at 4pm. After a catnap, I fed her again at 6pm. We implemented these cluster feeds at about 9 weeks and dropped it around 15 weeks.
If your baby is still waking up frequently throughout the night, you might consider adding in a dream feed as well.
RELATED POST: How to Dream Feed a Breastfed Baby
6: Complete the After-Care and Suckling Exercises Regularly
A tongue tie release is not a magic solution. It’s only the first step for breastfeeding a tongue tied baby effectively.
Performing the aftercare exercises is essential to a successful frenotomy. Most experts recommend completing these exercises 6 times a day with no longer than 6 hours between each session.
In addition, you will need to help your baby improve her sucking skills by practicing a few exercises with her. Some moms notice a difference in their baby’s nursing pattern immediately. In other cases, it can take weeks.
I’m not going to lie, I hated doing the aftercare stretches. My daughter screamed the second I placed her head on my lap and wouldn’t calm down until a few minutes afterward. The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that if I didn’t complete the exercises effectively, we would run the risk of a revision. I knew I could not watch her undergo another frenotomy.
If you don’t think you can make the time commitment, or withstand the procedure, definitely talk to your pediatrician about a referral to a speech pathologist to discuss oral exercises. Over time, it may be possible to stretch the frenulum, depending on the extent of the tongue tie and your baby’s age.
Breastfeeding a Tongue Tied Baby is Possible! Don’t Give Up
You’re a rockstar for breastfeeding a tongue tied baby. It’s not for the faint of heart and it really shows your commitment.
Try to manage the pain first, either with a nipple shield or nipple butter. Once you’ve eliminated the pain, decide how to effectively compensate for your baby’s unique needs. Tongue tie breastfeeding difficulties can be exhausting at times, but you will get through it. Even a month down the road, this experience will be a distant memory.
I hope you found these tips helpful. If you’ve already been through the crucible, please feel free to share your experiences down below to help other mommies with breastfeeding a tongue tied baby.