If Your Doctor Says A Tongue Tie Is No Big Deal, Get A Second Opinion

baby-sticking-tongue-outThe first few weeks following the birth of a new baby are a whirlwind of advice, adjustments, and confusion. Everyone from grandparents to nurses and your lactation consultant is hurling suggestions at you and often it’s difficult to tell which tips you should listen to and which ones you should ignore. The one person you can trust to make sense of the confusion is your pediatrician, but they don’t always get it right.

My daughter was born with a pretty severe tongue tie. A tongue tie occurs when the frenulum, the tissue that connects your tongue to the floor of your mouth, is too short and restricts the movement of the tongue. Lactation consultants in our hospital first alerted me to the problem the morning after she was born when I was trying (and failing) to get her to latch on to my breast properly. When our pediatrician stopped by the hospital for a visit, I asked her to look at my daughter’s tongue and assess the issue. She did and she told me the tie was pretty tight, but to keep on trying to breastfeed and perhaps it would loosen itself up. Within days my nipples were casualties of war.

In order to breastfeed, a baby needs to be able to cup the nipple with their tongue and draw it back towards the roof of their mouth in a sucking motion to expel milk. Babies with tongue ties often can’t do this and end up compressing the nipple between their gums, which leads to what breastfeeding websites describe as “nipple soreness,” but let me tell you: it’s an excruciating and possibly bloody descent into the depths of hell. It took two attempts at feeding for my nipples to start aching and scabbing.

Breastfeeding was pretty much impossible, but I kept trying anyway. Every feeding left me in tears and my baby started rapidly losing weight. Still, my pediatrician insisted the tongue tie just wasn’t that bad. She had me start supplementing with formula while still pumping and attempting to get my daughter to latch. After about two weeks, I gave up and switched exclusively to formula. I was a new mom, so I felt guilt about not being able to breastfeed, but I also felt incredible joy at being able to let my nipples heal and enjoy my baby for the first time since her birth.

I trusted my pediatrician and let the tongue tie issue lie. Soon after my daughter’s second birthday we moved across the country and began seeing new doctors. Our new pediatrician asked me about my daughter’s tongue at our first appointment and continued to check it at subsequent visits. Finally, at my daughter’s three-year appointment, she asked me if I had trouble understanding what my daughter was saying.

She sent us to an Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist who recommended a frenectomy — snipping of the tongue tie — and a few rounds of speech therapy. When my daughter was a newborn, this would have been a simple five-minute procedure with a little bit of numbing ointment and would’ve prevented any speech issues before they started. Now, it will require putting her to sleep and probably a few stitches and fitting therapy appointments into our schedule.

About two-percent of all babies in the U.S. are born with tongue ties, according to Mayo Clinic. Clipping them at birth used to be common, but then the practice fell out of favor and now it’s fairly difficult to find a pediatrician who will recommend the procedure unless a speech issue arises. Of course, by the time a child is old enough to diagnose a speech issue, they will have already endured a strained or ruined breastfeeding relationship and possibly other issues related to eating, digestion, and oral function.

I wish I had listened to my gut and sought opinions until someone was willing to work with me. I wish I had called an Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist myself. I wish I had known how much harder it would be to deal with it later as opposed to right then. I can’t go back, of course, and I shouldn’t beat myself up.

I just can’t help but think about all the pain and annoyance I could’ve saved both of us if I’d fought harder in those first few weeks. Pediatricians do the best they can, but they don’t always get it right. They’re human. At the end of the day it’s up to us be tireless advocates and not rest until we’ve gotten the answers we need.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

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