“Tongue Tie” Procedure for Newborns Helps Alleviate Breastfeeding Pain for Mom

Dr. Harley, who has performed more than a thousand tongue tie procedures, says about ten percent of babies born each year need a frenulectomy. Infants who are one day old can have the procedure, but the average age of a patient is two to three weeks. Before each frenulectomy, Dr. Harley’s team completes a comprehensive evaluation of the mother and baby to determine if there could be other issues.

March 4, 2014

A simple inpatient procedure allows a more pleasant experience for mother and baby and prevents speech problems later on

Washington, D.C. - March 4, 2014 – When Jennifer Isley experienced severe pain while breastfeeding her newborn daughter Luna, she knew something wasn’t right.

“Luna didn’t appear to latch on well and it made breastfeeding very painful and frustrating for me,” said Isley.

After doing her research and visiting the pediatrician, Isley came to Earl H. Harley, MD pediatric otolaryngologist at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital to see if her daughter could have a simple procedure called “tongue tie.”

The tongue tie procedure or frenulectomy/frenotomy is the quick and simple removal of the small strip of tissue under the tongue or below the lower lip.

“The number one purpose of this procedure is to allow babies to nurse properly,” said Dr. Harley. “The actual procedure takes about five to ten seconds and can be performed in one visit. As a Baby-Friendly hospital, we are committed to helping moms and babies succeed,” said Dr. Harley

Dr. Harley, who has performed more than a thousand tongue tie procedures, says about ten percent of babies born each year need a frenulectomy. Infants who are one day old can have the procedure, but the average age of a patient is two to three weeks. Before each frenulectomy, Dr. Harley’s team completes a comprehensive evaluation of the mother and baby to determine if there could be other issues.

Immediately after the procedure, Dr. Harley says it is important for the mother to nurse and to massage the baby’s tongue before each feeding for the next week.

“I could tell a difference right away after nursing for the first time. It definitely felt better,” said Isley.

There are signs parents can look out for. If the baby is unable to latch on to the breast properly they often end up biting the mother’s nipple, which can cause bleeding and severe pain. Or if the baby feeds for an extended period of time, but the mother still has a full breast, could be an indication that the baby’s frenulum needs to be snipped.

Another concern is that if breastfeeding becomes so difficult the new mom might give up on providing their infants with what the World Health Organization calls the ideal food for newborns and infants that provides them with all the nutrients they need for healthy development.

“Nursing is also a bonding experience for the mother and baby so the benefits of this procedure positively improve the quality of life for the mother and her child. We wouldn’t want a woman to stop breastfeeding her child because it was too painful,” said Dr. Harley.

Dr. Harley believes that if a child does not have the tongue tie procedure and requires one, it could also lead to speech problems later in life because the frenulum restricts proper movement of the tongue. In 2013 Dr. Harley’s team conducted a telephone study of patients who received the tongue tie procedure and patients who did not. They found that patients who did receive the tongue tie procedure had better annunciation than those who did not.

“I wanted all the health benefits of breastfeeding for my daughter and I didn’t want her to have speech problems,” said Isley. “I would definitely recommend the tongue tie procedure. I don’t think parents are aware of how potentially important this very simple procedure can be.”

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