Easy-to-Treat Condition Can Disrupt Breast-Feeding

Up to 10 percent of newborns have ankyloglossia or 'tongue-tie'

FRIDAY, Nov. 18, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- A "tongue-tie" condition in infants that hinders breast-feeding can be quickly diagnosed and treated in many cases, an expert says.

The condition, also known as ankyloglossia, occurs in 4 percent to 10 percent of newborns. The most common type is easy to identify and occurs when a tight band of tissue causes a heart-shaped tongue indentation at the front of the mouth.

Another form of the condition is harder to detect, according to Dr. Dale Tylor, an assistant professor of pediatric otolaryngology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

"For an infant to properly breast-feed, the baby needs to move his or her tongue to their lips to allow sucking to occur," Tylor said in a Vanderbilt news release. "If there's a tethering, the baby has a hard time latching on and uses his or her gums or lips. It becomes painful for the mom, and can even cause bleeding."

Other indications of tongue-tie include a baby who breast-feeds for up to an hour at a time, is frustrated during feeding, or falls asleep before becoming full.

These problems can cause mothers to supplement breast-feeding with formula or give up breastfeeding altogether.

But Tylor said more than two-thirds of mothers of babies with tongue-tie can successfully breast-feed their babies after a simple, outpatient tongue-tie-clipping procedure called a frenotomy.

Tylor also said her research shows that early treatment of tongue-tie reduces the risk of speech problems. Left untreated, tongue-tie can cause other problems.

"They may have problems taking a spoon," Tylor said. "Or they may not be able to lick an ice-cream cone or stick out their tongues with their brother, sister or peers. They could even have problems into adulthood with common social activities like brushing their teeth or even kissing."

More information

The American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery has more about tongue-tie.

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