Tongue Problems

Different tongue problems that a breastfed baby may have, and how to cope with them.

Tongue Thrust

This happens when baby pushes his/her tongue outward, pushing the breast away and interfering with latching on. Some babies only start thrusting their tongue, when the milk starts to flow slower. Thrusting of the tongue can cause Mom's nipples to become very sensitive.

There are certain things that can increase the risk of tongue thrust:

•    When a baby is born prematurely.

•    When a baby has a high muscle tone.

•    When a baby has been bottle fed.

•    When a baby has been given a pacifier.

Tongue Tie

There is a little membrane that anchors the tongue to the bottom of the mouth, called the fraenulum. If this little piece of skin is too short or too tight, it does not allow the baby to extend his/her tongue for proper latching and milk transfer.

Over time a baby’s fraenulum will stretch, but if it causes breastfeeding problems, it is best to have the skin snipped, at the doctor’s office.

Read more on tongue tie here.

Nipple Confusion in Connection with Tongue Problems

If a baby is given a pacifier or bottle too early on, (before 6 weeks) there is a chance that baby may learn to position the tongue incorrectly for breastfeeding, as artificial nipples are firm and do not fill the mouth.

Read more on nipple confusion here

Anatomy of the Tongue

If a baby’s tongue is very thick or long it could cause some difficulty. This is usually the case with Down's Syndrome children. Read more on breastfeeding Down's Syndrome children here.

A baby with a short tongue may have problems keeping the breast in the mouth, but as baby grows, so does the tongue and baby should have no problems breastfeeding from about 6 weeks onward.

Some babies may suck their tongues back or curl the tip of the tongue up. This is usually when a baby has a humped, short or flat tongue.

Signs that Baby has Tongue Problems

•    It seems that baby is chewing while breastfeeding.

•    Baby’s tongue is heart shaped, due to the pull of the short fraenulum (tongue tie).

•    Baby makes clicking sounds while breastfeeding, indicating a bad suction.

•    Mom cannot hear baby swallowing any milk while feeding.

•    Baby keeps popping off the breast.

•    Mom has sore nipples because of a bad latch. Baby’s hard palate is rubbing against her nipples.

•    Mom's nipples are distorted in shape after a breastfeeding session.

•    Baby keeps pushing the breast out of his/her mouth when trying to latch on. (tongue thrust).

•    Baby seems to have an unusually large or small tongue.

Fixing the Tongue Problems

•    Wait for baby to drop his/her tongue before latching on. Keep baby’s head in position while feeding.

•    Make sure that baby opens their mouth wide before latching on.

•    Get baby ready for the breast, just before feeding. Place your clean finger on the middle of baby’s tongue with the soft part of your finger on the tongue. Apply gentle pressure and allow baby to suck. Use your other hand to put gentle pressure on baby’s jaw. Do this for about a minute before putting baby to the breast.

•    Relaxation therapies are often used in the case of tongue thrust. Mom can rock baby and use skin on skin contact.

•    Lying down while breastfeeding can often provide extra support for a baby with tongue problems.

•    Some Moms find that the straddle, or any upright breastfeeding hold, can help baby latch on, because gravity is pulling the tongue down. This is useful if baby keeps pushing his/her tongue up towards the palate.

•    If baby is struggling with nipple confusion, it can help to use a teat that has a long length to it; this will help transition baby to the breast.

•    If Mom is struggling with sore nipples, it is best to change breastfeeding positions often; this will help keep the pressure on different sections of the nipple.

•    A baby with a short fraenulum, can be taken to a doctor or dentist to have it snipped, allowing for free motion of the tongue.

•    As a last resort, Mom can use a nipple shield, to help baby latch on, but Mom will need support on how to wean from this later on.

If the problems persist, it is best to seek out a breastfeeding friendly occupational therapist.

Tracy Ann Behr, CBC, CLD, (CBI)

Resource: Course information through on breastfeeding problems / tongue problems.

Other pages on breastfeeding-problems in connection with this page on tongue problems.

* Sucking problems

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Site by BFeeding Mamma, Tracy Behr. Currently studying through Child birth International (CBC, CBD). Also an accomplished author and Mommy of two.

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