What is it?
Tongue-tie (or ankyloglossia) is where the string like piece of tissue, connecting the tongue to the floor of the mouth (lingual frenulum) is too short or too near the front of the tongue, preventing the tongue from moving freely.
Tongue-tie occurs in 3-10% of new born babies and is more common in baby boys. It’s often identified by the breastfeeding support nurse because it can cause problems with breastfeeding.
The baby’s mouth keeps slipping off the nipple, forcing the baby to bite down in order to latch on properly, which can cause pain and ulcers for the mother. If the baby is unable to feed properly, they can become underfed, tired and frustrated. They may also need more frequent feeds and fail to gain weight.
Treatment for tongue-tie is only necessary in babies who have trouble feeding as the problem usually resolves naturally over time.
What can be done?
If feeding is affected, a tongue-tie division is necessary. This is where the lingual frenulum is cut using surgical scissors, releasing the tip of the tongue. The tongue-tie division can be carried out by a doctor, a speech and language therapist or a specially trained midwife.
If the baby is only a few months old, there’s no need for anaesthetic. The division is painless because at this age the nerve endings in the area haven’t developed.
If the baby is older (usually old enough to have teeth), the tongue-tie division will be performed under general anaesthetic as the nerves will have formed in the area by this time.
Once completed, the baby can start feeding immediately. A little bleeding is normal, but stops quickly. A white patch in the area is common, but usually clears up within 48 hours.
View our factsheet for more information about tongue-tie.