What is it, how might it affect my baby and how is it treated?

What is tongue-tie?

Tongue-tie (also known as ankyloglossia) is where the frenulum - the cord-like skin joining the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth - is too far forward, limiting the movement of baby’s tongue.

tongue-tie in babies

Tongue-tie is thought to affect between 3 and 10% of all newborns and it can prevent baby from sticking their tongue out beyond their lower lip, and they may also not be able to fully move it up, down or side-to-side.  

Tongue-tie can differ in severity with some babies clearly suffering from the condition with a visible frenulum joined to the tip of the tongue. The frenulum can of course be joined anywhere along the underside of the tongue – the further forward it is, the more restriction it may cause.

How will I know if my baby has tongue-tie? 

It would be unusual for tongue-tie to not be picked up as part of your newborn checks at hospital but if you do notice difficulty with the movement of the tongue or problems feeding then it’s simply a case of having a look in baby’s mouth – perhaps easier during a wail or yawn!  

The further forward the tongue-tie (or frenulum) is, the easier it will be to pick up on, but if it is towards the back of the tongue it will of course be harder to see.

If you’re in any doubt you should speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor for advice and reassurance. 

How might tongue-tie affect my baby?

Tongue-tie may cause problems with breastfeeding or even bottle-feeding in some babies.

As you might already know, breastfed babies need to form a good latch onto the breast for effective feeding and tongue-tie could interfere. This will either be down to immobility of the tongue or baby just not being able to open their mouth wide enough (or perhaps both!).

Bottle-fed babies may also suffer similarly; being unable to create a good seal on the bottle teat which can stop them sucking properly. 

How is tongue-tie treated?

Tongue-tie doesn't have to be treated at all if it doesn't cause your baby any particular problems with feeding. Often babies with moderate tongue-tie get along just fine!

In more severe cases where the tongue-tie is affecting your baby’s ability to feed you may be able opt for the frenulum to be cut. This is a relatively quick and simple procedure and babies don’t normally need any kind of pain relief as the frenulum contains very few nerve endings. The procedure will release the tongue-tie allowing full movement then on.

The procedure does carry some risk of heavy bleeding but the chances of this happening are low. Your baby could also be a tad upset during or after the procedure but like most things, lots of warm comforting hugs can help, as can a feed straight after.

If your baby has been diagnosed with tongue tie then your GP should be able to discuss all your options with you.