Tongue Problems

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

If you are worried about the amount of milk that your baby is receiving, you can read:

Tongue Thrust

This happens when a baby pushes his/her tongue outward, pushing the breast away and thus interfering with latching on. Some babies only thrust their tongue, when the milk flow starts to decrease. Thrusting of the tongue can cause a mother'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 about tongue tie here.

Nipple Confusion & Tongue Problems

If a baby is given a pacifier or bottle before 6 weeks of age, there is a chance that the baby will learn to position the tongue incorrectly for breastfeeding. Artificial nipples are firm and do not fill the mouth.

Read more about 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 about breastfeeding a Down's Syndrome child here.

A baby with a short tongue may have problems keeping the breast in the mouth, but as the baby grows, so does the tongue and he/she should have no problem 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 the baby is chewing while breastfeeding. 
  • The baby’s tongue is heart shaped, due to the pull of the short fraenulum (tongue tie). 
  • The baby makes clicking sounds while breastfeeding, indicating a bad suction. 
  • The mother cannot hear her baby swallowing any milk while feeding. 
  • The baby keeps popping off of the breast. 
  • The mother has sore nipples because of a bad latch. The baby’s hard palate is rubbing against her nipples. 
  • The mother's nipples are folded over after a breastfeeding session. 
  • The baby keeps pushing the breast out of his/her mouth when trying to latch on. (tongue thrust). 
  • The baby seems to have an unusually large or small tongue. 

Fixing the Tongue Problems

  • Wait for the baby to drop his/her tongue before latching on. Keep the baby’s head in position while feeding. 
  • Make sure that the baby opens his/her mouth wide before latching on. 
  • Get the baby ready for the breast, just before feeding. Place your clean finger on the middle of your baby’s tongue with the soft part of your finger on the tongue. Apply gentle pressure and allow your baby to suck. Use your other hand to put gentle pressure on baby’s jaw. Do this for about a minute before putting your baby to the breast. 
  • Relaxation therapies are often used in the case of tongue thrust. The mother can rock the baby and use skin on skin contact.
  • Lying down while breastfeeding can often provide extra support for a baby with tongue problems. 
  • Some mothers find that the straddle, or any upright breastfeeding hold, can help a baby latch on, because gravity is pulling the tongue down. This is useful if the baby keeps pushing his/her tongue up towards the palate. 
  • If the baby is struggling with nipple confusion, it can help to use a teat that has a long length to it; this will help transition the baby to the breast. 
  • If the mother 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, the mother can use a nipple shield, to help her baby latch on. 

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.

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