This Newborn Condition Often Leads to An Unnecessary Procedure – Here’s What Moms Need to Know

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash


New, first-time mothers are often faced with many challenges – and have many questions as they navigate through the first few weeks.

Breastfeeding provides the best nutrition for babies and is the most natural form of feeding.

But it doesn’t always come without its obstacles, and one condition can cause a great deal of frustration and concern for parents.

Ankyloglossia is a scary-sounding medical term that can seriously inhibit the process of breastfeeding in the early days of a baby’s life.

It is more often referred to as “tongue-tie,” wherein a newborn’s tongue is attached to the floor of their mouth by a piece of tissue called the frenulum.  This condition occurs in anywhere from five to ten percent of infants.

While it sounds like a minor issue, the tissue can prevent newborns from successfully latching on to the breast or being able to properly express milk.

This can lead to the inability of newborns to gain weight, extreme pain for new nursing mothers, and a whole lot of stress for both.

More and more often, the condition is being treated by “tongue clipping,” which isn’t as barbaric as the name implies.  It simply involves snipping the piece of tissue to allow for easier breastfeeding.

But like any surgical procedure, as minor as it may be, it is not without its risks or concerns, especially given the fact that it is done without anesthesia.

Many pediatricians question whether it is necessary at all.

According to pediatric specialists, they have seen an uptick in the procedure – but not much data to prove its necessity or effectiveness for most newborns.

And while complications are rare, they do occur, including bleeding, infection, or permanent damage to the tongue.

So why are so many newborns having this procedure performed, and what are the other options?

Pediatric specialists at Massachusetts Eye and Ear’s Airway, Voice, and Swallowing Center conducted a study into the matter.

Of 115 babies with either “tongue-tie” or its opposite condition, upper lip tissue tether where the tissue is clipped to release the upper lip from the gums, the doctors found that clipping the tissue was not necessary in 63 percent of cases.

Instead, mother and baby took part in feeding evaluations and met with speech pathologists and lactation consultants familiar with the condition.

Many have found that positioning baby in a different way can help, as can partially hand expressing milk while baby is nursing until they strengthen their sucking reflex.

So why is the procedure still done in so many cases?

Part of the reason stems from information that expectant moms receive in breastfeeding support classes or groups online, where they hear the main reason that babies cannot latch on while nursing is due to tongue-tie.

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New moms, with so many things to learn – and often so much pain while nursing and fear of baby not thriving – often jump at the chance to find a quick fix.

Diagnoses of tongue-tie, and the decision to have the tissue-clipping procedure, have increased all over the globe by more than ten times in recent decades.

But experts in the field say more should be done to provide alternative information, raise awareness in both pediatricians and parents, and offer more targeted lactation resources for moms whose child has received the diagnosis.

As always, parents know their children best and must do their research.  Getting a second opinion is always a good idea.

There are alternatives to surgery, something that should always be explored, no matter how minor the procedure.

When new moms have more information and options at their disposal, the best decision for both mom and baby can be made.

Support is out there to provide the best breastfeeding experience possible during these early, sometimes exhausting, days after birth – and the best for baby is always worth fighting for.

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