Baby feeding troubles can be from tongue-tie

Dunedin mother Angela Hodges (31) holds her 7-month-old son Max who has more tongue movement...
Dunedin mother Angela Hodges (31) holds her 7-month-old son Max who has more tongue movement after a bit of a snip. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Angela Hodges blamed herself when her newborn son Max struggled to breast-feed.

''I'd be feeding and feeding for hours and Max was always hungry. He was always wanting to be fed again,'' the Dunedin first-time mum said.

''I thought it was all my fault, that I was not doing my job right.''

After talking to Plunket, she visited The Breast Room in South Dunedin where she was told her Max had a condition called tongue-tie.

A tongue-tie, which affects up to 11% of infants, usually develops during the first trimester of pregnancy. This is the time in a pregnancy when the gap under the tongue opens up.

If this process doesn't complete fully, then a frenulum - a tight piece of tissue that holds the tongue down or restricts movement - can remain.

''He didn't have the full capability of opening his mouth and sucking, he had very little mobility in his tongue to get to the roof of the mouth to get a full feed.''

She took Max to see Dunedin doctor Paul Bennett, who ''snipped it right then with a scalpel''.

The cut without anaesthetic cost $10, Mrs Hodges said.

Max was a ''fast healer'' and the tissue repeatedly healed, thickened and hindered feeding again, so Max had to be recut another five times in five weeks.

''It was more emotional for me than Max,'' Mrs Hodges said.

After each cut, Max was breast-feeding successfully minutes later, she said.

Dr Bennett, of Broadway Medical Centre, said he used a scalpel to cut about five tongue-ties a day in Dunedin.

He did not use anaesthetic on babies because injecting a local anaesthetic in the tongue was as ''stingy'' as having the tie cut, and there were risks of an adverse reaction to the drug and complications with the injection.

''Some kids don't cry at all; some do for a few minutes.''

Lactation consultant Dr Yvonne Le Fort, of Auckland, said she had cut the tongue-ties of more than 1700 babies with scissors in the past 12 years.

''[It's] a simple snip through a membrane that doesn't really have a nerve supply, so I'm quite comfortable doing that without anaesthetic.''

Studies that monitored patients' blood pressure and pulse during the cut revealed no rises to indicate pain, she said.

She had never experienced a baby to cry extensively or fail to feed after the snip, Dr Le Fort said.

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