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What is Tongue Tie in Babies?

Updated: Nov 25

If you are anything like me you’ve probably spent a lot of time reading about babies and their development. So, I thought nothing could surprise me. When all of the sudden there it is. Grade 9/10 for my baby boy. The report said he had tongue tie. What the hell is a tongue tie?

cute baby with tongue out

Image created with Dalle - E

I’ve never heard of it, never saw someone having it. And how would I? It’s not like I go around checking other babies' tongues.

So the good old Google search was once more in play. I’ll try to summarize the things I’ve read about and the conclusions I came to.

Related: Tongue Tie in Babies: Release Procedure, Pros, and Cons


In this article:


What is Tongue Tie?

Tongue tie, also known as ankyloglossia, is a condition that occurs when the strip of skin beneath a baby's tongue (the lingual frenulum) is shorter than usual. This seemingly small piece of tissue can have a significant impact on your baby's ability to move their tongue freely.

In simple terms, imagine a thin string holding your baby's tongue to the floor of their mouth. In babies with tongue tie, this string is too short or tight, limiting the range of motion of their tongue. This limitation can affect various aspects of your baby's life, particularly when it comes to breastfeeding.

Tongue tie can be categorized into different degrees of severity, ranging from mild to significant. The severity often dictates the extent to which it may affect your baby's ability to feed effectively and comfortably.

The levels of severity look like this:

  1. Mild Tongue Tie: In cases of mild tongue tie, the lingual frenulum is shorter than usual but may not restrict tongue movement significantly.

  2. Moderate Tongue Tie: Moderate cases involve a lingual frenulum that is noticeably short, restricting tongue movement to a moderate extent.

  3. Severe Tongue Tie: Severe tongue tie involves a very short or thick lingual frenulum, severely limiting the baby's tongue movement.

Reading about the different levels of severity gave me a bit of comfort as my baby didn’t have any issues during feeds. Just the opposite - he was chubby.

How to Tell if Baby is Tongue Tied

Most likely the doctors will notice this and let you know. I had several doctors telling me he had tongue tie, but I’m not sure if they actually saw it or just read the previous reports. Here is how you can tell if your baby is tongue tied:

  1. Difficulty Latching: One of the most common signs is difficulty latching onto the breast. If your baby struggles to take in a good mouthful of breast tissue and consistently latches shallowly, it could be indicative of a tongue tie.

  2. Feeding Challenges: Tongue-tied babies often have trouble maintaining a strong and efficient suckling rhythm. They might frequently pop on and off the breast, leading to longer, frustrating feedings.

  3. Maternal Discomfort: If you experience nipple pain, damage, or discomfort during breastfeeding, it could be linked to your baby's tongue tie. The shallow latch and poor tongue mobility can result in friction and pressure on your nipples.

  4. Inadequate Weight Gain: Tongue tie can interfere with a baby's ability to extract milk efficiently from the breast. As a result, they may not gain weight as expected or might even lose weight in the early weeks.

  5. Audible Swallowing: Listen closely during feeds. If your baby's swallowing sounds are infrequent or weak, it might be due to an inefficient latch caused by tongue tie.

  6. Fussiness and Frustration: Babies with tongue tie might appear frustrated, fussy, or unsatisfied after feeds. They could be expending more energy during feeding without getting the nourishment they need.

  7. Nipple Shape: Check the shape of your nipple after feeds. If it appears misshapen, flattened, or compressed, it could be an indication of an ineffective latch due to tongue tie.

We probably checked at least half of these points so it would be an understatement to say I went crazy reading and worrying. I went beyond crazy. So normally my next question was why us? What causes this?

Is Tongue Tie Genetic?

Tongue tie can run in families, but it's not solely determined by genetics. While there might be a genetic predisposition, other factors can contribute to its occurrence. Here is what I found as possible causes for tongue tie in babies.

  1. Genetic Predisposition: Some families may have a higher prevalence of tongue tie due to a genetic predisposition. If you, your partner, or close relatives have experienced tongue tie, there may be an increased likelihood that your baby could also be affected.

  2. Developmental Factors: Tongue tie can also be influenced by factors during fetal development. The development of the lingual frenulum, the thin strip of tissue beneath the tongue, is a complex process that can be influenced by various genetic and environmental factors.

  3. Spontaneous Occurrence: It's important to note that not all babies born to parents with a history of tongue tie will have the condition. Tongue tie can also occur spontaneously without a clear family history.

  4. Environmental Factors: Some environmental factors during pregnancy may contribute to the development of tongue tie, but these are not entirely understood.

So the conclusion is - nobody knows. There are different reasons why this can occur and you can never know 100% why your baby was born with this. Obviously the next step was acceptance and figuring out what is the harm of having this or not treating it further.

Now while I haven't gone throught the release as my kid didn't need this in the end. I've coverd this in a separate article for you. In case this is something you are currently struggling with and thinking about doing.

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