Identifying & Treating A Lip Tie In Babies & Toddlers

baby tongue tie

While there are plenty of things you can do to prepare for the arrival of your baby, you can't plan for every single scenario or unexpected development. So much of parenting is left up to chance or the type of little person your baby is, which can be frustrating! You may have all these grand ideas about how you're going to parent, and then your baby comes along and they have other ideas, or needs you didn't/couldn't anticipate. Many women go into motherhood intending to breastfeed, but them find themselves struggling to get the hang of it. In some cases, the struggle can come from their baby's inability to latch or suck properly. And in some of those cases, the answer can be found in a little piece of tissue behind their upper lip. Lip tie in infants (and even toddlers) isn't the only reason there might be some feeding difficulties, but it's something to be on the look out for. Here's how you can identify and treat lip tie in your little one.

What is lip tie?

There's a little piece of tissue behind your upper lip called the frenulum. Everyone has one, and most of us don't ever give it a second though. But when that membrane is too tight or stiff, it can actually prevent the upper lip from being able to move freely. This is what's known as lip tie. Like tongue tie (when the lingual frenulum is too tight), lip tie can make nursing, and feeding in general, more difficult. Lip tie is less common than tongue tie, but experts believe there is some genetic component involved in cases of lip or tongue tie.

An overhead shot of an alert, 3 week old newborn baby boy looking at the camera and sticking out his tongue.
Credit: iStockbaby c

How does lip tie affect feeding?

Think about it: when your baby's lips and/or tongue aren't able to do their job properly, they won't be able to nurse efficiently. Breastfeeding, in theory, sounds easy. But in order for it to work, your baby's mouth has to create just the right latch around the nipple, to release the milk and stimulate the hormones that help you continue producing milk. A poor latch, or a weak sucking reflex, can make breastfeeding painful, and can have a negative affect on your baby's ability to eat and gain weight.

What are the symptoms of lip tie?

The most common symptoms of lip tie include poor weight gain, struggling to latch onto the breast, pain (for you) during nursing due to a poor latch, and being extremely fatigued by nursing or falling asleep while nursing (babies with lip or tongue have to work extra hard to get breast milk from the nipple, which is exhausting). You may also notice a clicking sound when your baby nurses, or notice that they have difficult breathing while nursing. If you're nursing a baby with lip tie, you might experience engorgement right after feedings, or even develop mastitis.

Left untreated, lip tie may even affect their ability to eat when they start solids - some experts believe babies with lip tie also struggle to eat from a spoon or eat finger foods. Toddlers with lip tie may be more prone to tooth decay.

Mother and her baby with tongue sticking out
Credit: iStock

How to diagnose and correct lip tie:

If your baby is having a hard time nursing or feeding, it's best to have them evaluated by a feeding specialist. A doctor can easily and quickly determine if lip tie is to blame. There are levels of severity when it comes to lip tie. Levels 1 and 2 typically don't require intervention - you can try to loosen the membrane by running your finger under the lip, just above the upper jaw where the frenulum connects the lip to the gums. Your baby might have an easier time drinking from a bottle, so pumping and bottle feeding is an option. For more severe cases, levels 3 and 4, a frenectomy might be something to consider. A pediatrician or pediatric dentist can sever the membrane with a laser or surgical scissors, and the procedure will cause little to no pain.

READ NEXT: 10 Things New Moms Should Know About Breastfeeding

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