A Sneaky Culprit: Tongue-Tie

Doctors and parents can easily check for this condition, which can affect your infant's ability to breastfeed properly.


Are you having a hard time getting your newborn to latch on? Is nursing becoming bite-your-lip painful? If so, your baby may have a condition called ankyloglossia, or tongue-tie.

Affecting 4.8 percent of newborns, tongue-tie occurs when the freneulum, the thin piece of tissue that attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth, is too tight, restricting the tongue's movement. This can cause breastfeeding issues and poor weight gain for babies.

"Latching on to the breast requires the baby to stick his tongue out and lift it up, and tongue-tie can hinder this," explains M. Lauren Lalakea, M.D., an otolaryngologist and clinical associate professor (affiliated) at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif. "Babies may gum the breast and not create the suction necessary for a proper latch."

Interestingly, tongue-tie does not cause problems with bottle-fed babies because the same mechanics are not required.

To check for the condition, look to see if your child's tongue is heart-shaped when it is sticking out; also see if it is difficult to lift up or seems tight against the floor of his mouth. If you suspect he has tongue-tie, see your pediatrician; it may need to be treated in a simple office procedure called a frenotomy, in which the frenulum is snipped to increase the tongue's mobility.

Beware, however, that waiting too long may make for a slightly more complicated procedure.

"Once a baby is 4 to 5 months old," Lalakea says, "a frenotomy usually needs to be done in an operating room under anesthesia." She explains that younger babies tolerate the office procedure fairly well; older ones are more cognizant and simply won't like it. —Carole Anderson Lucia