Tongue tie and lip tie can both make breastfeeding difficult and painful for babies. As a result, some infants manage to shift their approach, relieve the pain, and get needed nourishment. Two results are that feeding times are prolonged, as is pain for the mother. Other things are going on at the same time, however, that create long-term negative effects. Overall, what’s happening is proof of two things. First, weight gain should not be considered a universal measure of successful breastfeeding. Secondly, greater awareness is needed regarding the importance of identifying and repairing tongue/lip tie. More details follow.
How Babies Compensate for Tongue/Lip Tie Pain during Breastfeeding
Tongue tie and lip tie are both conditions that interfere with the ability to successfully breastfeed. The following are some methods babies use to adapt to the situation, but the outcomes do not equate to successful breastfeeding.
A baby with high muscle tone can be tenacious about receiving needed nourishment. Due to their high level of muscle tone, these babies don’t fatigue at the breast as quickly as infants normally do when oral restrictions make breastfeeding difficult and uncomfortable. They succeed in thriving; but when mom is tempted to quit breastfeeding because of unbearable pain associated with a baby’s tongue or lip tie, early weight gain is irrelevant.
Pursing the Lips
A common type of compensation for tongue/lip tie is that the baby latches on by pursing the lips. The tongue is unable to create the seal and suction required for proper breastfeeding.
If a baby fails to fully open his mouth during breastfeeding, it’s because of pain associated with tongue/lip tie. The baby closes the mouth until the painful tension caused by a short frenulum dissipates, resulting in a shallow latch. Experts have had the experience of finding that lactation experts are often unaware of the association between tongue or lip tie and:
- “Small mouth” breastfeeding
- Pursing the lips, and
- Prolonged, painful nursing.
Long-Term Effects: Tongue/Lip Tie and Dental Occlusion
A normal palate and process of development
Research shows that proper breastfeeding directly contributes to improved dental occlusion, which is the position of the teeth when the mouth is closed. Successful breastfeeding also encourages optimum craniofacial development. The palate is naturally expanded through normal breastfeeding, and the following explains the process:
The palate is molded into a broad shelf when a pliable breast is lifted by the tongue, and at the same time, pressure is placed on the gums. The teeth, as a result, ultimately grow inadequately spaced.
As a child grows older, the palate is central to facial growth. With a low, broad palate, breathing out of the nose is easy and the potential for sleep apnea and sleep disordered breathing is reduced.
A high palate and disruptions resulting from tongue/lip tie
If an infant has a high palate and tongue-tie and therefore fails to breastfeed properly, the following are among the potential results:
- The nasal cavity is contracted because the palate becomes arched instead of properly expanding. A high palate is often immediately noticeable after the child is born because the baby will snort heavily during nursing. For children with tongue/lip tie, the latch is further complicated by nasal obstruction.
- If the floor the septum is on rises up, the result is a deviated septum, though this is a delayed response, occurring over the course of years.
- Above two responses predispose an infant to mouth breathing.
- A high palate is associated with crowded teeth, referred to as maxillary constriction.
More Medical Professionals Need to Know
It helps a great deal when health care professionals are able to identify various behaviors as symptoms of tongue/lip tie. There are many preventable consequences associated with failing to treat these conditions, including: premature termination of breastfeeding, misalignment of the teeth, and disordered breathing that disrupts sleep later on in life.