What is a lip tie?
A lip tie is when the top lip is tied to or attached to the upper part of the gum. A piece of skin called a frenulum connects the underside of the top lip and the upper gum. When this frenulum is too tight or situated too low, it affects the lips ability to flare out. A serious lip tie can hamper the feeding process by making it difficult for the baby to latch onto the breast.
A tongue tie is when the frenulum (the band of tissue that connects the bottom of the tongue to the floor of the mouth), is too short or tight and this affects the movement of the tongue. A tongue tie is congenital, meaning that it is present at birth, and it can be hereditary. A lip tie is not as common or severe as a tongue tie. Studies show that a lip tie can usually come right as the child grows. As the permanent teeth come in, the tie may fix itself.
There is a bit of a clash of opinions amongst medical professionals with regards to a lip and tongue tie and how they affect breastfeeding. Some paediatricians believe that the lip and tongue tie does not impact breastfeeding at all. Others believe that it impacts feeding quite negatively and causes many difficulties. A tongue and lip tie has to be diagnosed by having the baby assessed and the impact of the tie can only be assessed by watching how the baby feeds. Very often a doctor, who is not concerned about ties, will do neither of these. A detailed and comprehensive examination needs to be done on the mouth and the breastfeeding needs to be observed by a practitioner who knows what they are looking for.
Some babies with lip tie may manage to feed and gain weight adequately in the first few weeks, but as they grow, they may struggle to maintain a full milk supply. Feeds are often long and frequent throughout the day and baby always seems to be dissatisfied. Lip ties do not only adversely affect breastfeeding. It can also affect jaw and dental development, and this in turn can affect chewing, swallowing and digestion.
Some babies will be able to breastfeed with a lip tie, while others will have immense difficulties. This is because the tightness of the frenulum may be different in children, and the degree of tightness is what causes the varying consequences.
A frenectomy (external wikipedia link) (also known as a frenulectomy or a frenotomy) can be performed to remove a frenulum. The procedure is quick and discomfort is minimal.
Also, experimenting with different breastfeeding holds may also bring some success at feeding. For example, this method has helped various lip tied babies in latching more securely during breastfeeding:
You may also find that as your baby gets bigger; their ability to latch also improves. Breastfeeding compressions have also been found to help during feeds. Please consult your health care practitioner for further advice and treatment if you suspect a lip or tongue tie.
Other pages on breastfeeding problems you might like to read
1. Spitzfaden, Laura. Feed the baby LLC. [Online] http://feedthebabyllc.com/tongue-and-lip-tie/.
2. The funny-shaped woman. [Online] 2011. http://thefunnyshapedwoman.blogspot.co.za/2011/03/introducing-maxillary-labial-frenulum.html.
3. David, Louise. [Online] http://louisedavidlc.blogspot.co.za/2014/06/tongue-tie-and-upper-lip-tie-assessment.html.
4. Maaser, Stacey. Embracing Motherhood. [Online] http://embracing-motherhood.com/how-to-identify-and-deal-with-lip-tie-and-tongue-tie/.
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