How to tell if my baby is tongue tied

Signs of a tongue tie

If you’re having difficulties at the moment with breastfeeding, I’m sure you will be trying to find an answer, speaking with friends, relatives or health professionals as you try to work out your feeding issues. 

There is also a lot of information concerning tongue-tie, and many breastfeeding mothers worry that this could possibly be the issue, and may believe that a tongue-tie division is the answer to that problem.

Over many years working with breastfeeding mothers, I’ve seen babies who have had a tongue-tie, and who have breastfed much better after the tongue-tie division procedure – and for them, that was the right decision.

However, for some babies who’ve had a tongue-tie division, this decision did not improve the feeding at all.

Close up of a smiling baby

The issue of tongue-tied babies is a complicated and controversial one.

Some very recent research has suggested that some babies are having this procedure unnecessarily.

There appears to be an ‘epidemic’ of referrals in recent years where breastfeeding mothers are looking for a quick fix.

If you are experiencing breastfeeding difficulties and you’ve done all you can to troubleshoot some of those difficulties, but still things are not resolving, then it’s crucial to seek out skilled support.

Speak to a breastfeeding counselor or IBCLC, somebody who will be able to help you to look at all the potential issues and work through strategies to help to bring some resolve.

What are the potential signs of a tongue-tie?

One of the most common signs that many breastfeeding women experience is that you could be experiencing very sore nipples

It’s important to note that sore nipples, although not a normal part of breastfeeding can be a common feature in the early days, and even the first 2-4 weeks, while you work on good positioning. 

If, however, despite all your efforts, you find that after every feed your nipples look misshapen and damaged,

I encourage you to consider the strategies to promote comfortable breastfeeding and to change your breastfeeding position.

Another potential sign of a tongue-tie is if you find that you’re getting engorged quite frequently, and this is leading to blocked ducts or mastitis.

If your baby is not latching well and not draining the breast well because of the tongue-tie, this can be the outcome. However, there can be other reasons for blocked ducts and mastitis too.

Babies who have a tongue tie can sometimes find it challenging to stay latched at the breast, often causing them to bob on and off a lot and suck in a whole load of air in the process, sometimes making clicking noises as well.

Mum holding an upset baby

I would again encourage you to try lots of different positions to rule out positioning as a stand-alone cause for these symptoms too.

If you do find that your baby is bobbing on and off the breast, and sucking in lots of air in the process, he may be displaying uncomfortable windy symptoms. 

You may find that the feeds are taking a long time too, and your baby may not be gaining weight very well – he may not be attached to the breast well and, therefore, not able to drain the breast well either.

Because of this, he may be struggling to tell your body to make all the milk he needs. However, please note that a lot of babies can gain weight normally even with a tongue-tie.

Generally, he will not be able to extend his tongue past the lower lip or the lower gum line, and the tongue may appear to be restricted.

Sometimes it may look very short in your baby’s mouth, even spoon-shaped and not able to reach the roof of the mouth.

The tongue tip itself might look heart-shaped or a little bit flat or notched.

The tongue may be able to extend quite well, but retracts back – a tongue-tie may still be present in this situation.

If you have identified some of these symptoms, and you feel convinced that this could be the issue, please seek out skilled support to determine whether a referral to a tongue-tie practitioner is warranted.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022


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