Tongue-tie in a newborn - what can you do?

When my son was born I had been in labour for four days. I was absolutely shattered. Another baby crying kept me awake all night. I couldn't have been more tired if I tried. I struggled with breastfeeding. He wasn't latching and he seemed to not be feeding properly. The only reason the midwives let me leave the hospital was because I had a breast pump and bottles at home. So I began my journey into motherhood not quite as I expected to, using a breast pump and a cup because the boy couldn't latch to bottles either.

During this time, no-one thought to check for tongue-tie in my son. It was only when he was crying at 3 days old that my mum spotted that it looked as though he had a tongue-tie. The midwife confirmed it and it explained that he had been losing weight and had quite bad jaundice. There was no suggestion that anything would be done about the tongue-tie. The advice to me was to keep on using the breast pump and feeding him by a cup. Not the best advice in the world. When I said I didn't think he was getting enough, I was told to bottle feed him formula, which I didn't want to do.

So I started researching. I looked into tongue-tie and discovered that it was possible to have a small operation, a frenotomy, which was simply a snip to the piece of skin which was keeping his tongue stuck to the bottom of his mouth. It would be done without anaesthetic, but you could request a small local anaesthetic if you would prefer. None of the research seemed to suggest any contraindications, but if left un-snipped he could have problems with speech. It seemed a no brainer to me. Unfortunately the doctors disagreed. My local GP said that she would refer him if he had speech problems when he turned two years old. I researched again and realised that this would mean a general anaesthetic and a bigger operation.

All this was going on whilst I had a very small newborn. I was struggling because he wasn't feeding and because he wasn't eating, he didn't sleep much. I was so tired I could barely remember my name. Every midwife I spoke to told me different stories. I discovered I could pay for the operation if I took my son to Bristol, and I started seriously considering it.  The Friday after the boy was born, a lovely midwife came to our house. I was at my wits end and sobbed pretty much the whole time she was there. The boy was losing weight and was close to being taken back into hospital. I was expressing and cup feeding him which was taking such a long time. The midwife said, "they do that operation in Bradford, I will refer you now". Because it was Friday, there was no appointment until the Tuesday, but that was an appointment, more than I could ever have imagined possible. We only had to wait a few days and hopefully he would be able to breastfeed.

On Tuesday morning, we had to be at the hospital at 8am. I was nervous, anxious and excited, all at the same time. We were the first ones in and I had to hold the boy as still as possible. Luckily he was fast asleep, so it wasn't hard. The consultant rubbed his finger with a bit of local anaesthetic and rubbed it against the area to be cut. Then he got some surgical scissors and simply snipped the skin underneath the tongue. The boy cried for a second and then went back to sleep. The consultant decided that he needed to snip a bit more to make sure he had got everything. The boy wasn't at all impressed with this and really screamed, but for less than a minute. Happy that he had snipped everything he needed to, we were sent to a room next door to see if the boy would feed. He suckled straight away and we settled down for his first ever proper breastfeed.

The relief was beyond anything I have felt before. Finally I could feed my baby as I intended. It hadn't really hurt and had taken a matter of seconds to fix a problem which could have been far more difficult to rectify if it had been left until his toddler years. The consultant who saw him said that he had no doubt that it would have affected his speech as he got older. My son had no side-effects from the operation and there was only a spot of blood. The only thing which came out of it was that he was able to breastfeed, which was all I wanted to do in the first place. If I was in the same position again then I wouldn't hesitate to fight for the operation.

If you need further information, then this is some of the research which I found useful. There is a helpful handout here and the NHS website is also very useful, click here for that. You can also read the NICE guidelines here. Our local health visitors asked me to help put together a protocol, so that any other babies born with tongue-tie will be given the options straight away. 

Newborn baby with a tongue-tie