Many new mothers have trouble breastfeeding. Often, mothers of newborns admit breastfeeding can be painful or unpleasant. If you and your bundle of joy aren’t on the same page yet, don’t worry – you’re not alone. But before you throw in the towel and switch to bottle-feeding formula, consider how important breastfeeding is and the straight-forward steps you can take to make breastfeeding the magical bonding experience it was designed to be.
Health experts across the board, from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to the American Medical Association (AMA)and the World Health Organization (WHO), recommend breastfeeding as the best choice for babies. Breastfeeding helps defend against infections, prevent allergies, and protect against a number of chronic conditions. It’s been shown to help lower an infant’s chances of ear infections, diarrhea, and respiratory infections, even meningitis. Breastfeeding also protects infants from allergies, asthma, diabetes, obesity and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Plus, breastfeeding is particularly beneficial for premature babies. Health experts also believe breast milk is the best nutritional choice for infants. It’s considered “perfect food,” easily digestible for the infant. In a nutshell, formula can’t compare.
Despite this, many pediatricians still recommend formula to mothers having difficulty breastfeeding, especially those who find it uncomfortable. However, there may be something new parents can do to not only solve the problem of painful breastfeeding, thereby ensuring baby has the best health outcomes possible, but also solve potential problems for your child as he or she grows. If you’re having trouble breastfeeding, it may be your child is tongue-tied.
Before you freak out, know that being tongue-tied, also called ankyloglossia, is a relatively common condition that is completely treatable. What most new mothers don’t know is breast -feeding should never be painful. It should a wonderful, calming experience, and shouldn’t damage the mother’s nipples or cause any discomfort. If breast- feeding were painful, we as a species would have gone extinct.
The problem is often the baby’s lingual frenum, the piece of tissue that connects the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth. If this piece of skin is too short or too tight, your baby cannot adequately lift his or her tongue to properly engage the nipple. This causes the baby to try and clamp down on the nipple—which causes pain. It can also result in too much air being ingested by the infant while attempting to nurse. When air goes in, it must come out – either through the mouth in the form of burping and spitting up, or from the anus in the form of farting. Infants who are excessively gassy or spit-up after every breastfeeding are often tongue-tied. While many pediatricians identify the mother’s diet as the cause for this, it’s actually the infant being unable to breastfeed properly that’s the culprit. Luckily, ankyloglossia, the medical term for being tongue-tied, has an easy fix: a frenectomy.
A frenectomy is a procedure whereby the baby’s frenum is gently, painlessly, bloodlessly released, usually with a laser. The procedure is simple and quick, with no anesthesia, no bleeding, and no stitches. Using a laser is far more precise and far less messy than the old-fashioned scalpels or scissors. The mother is encouraged to breastfeed right after the procedure– and notices an immediate difference in the baby’s ability to latch and nurse.
Some mothers may be thinking, why have my child get a frenectomy at all? If it’s between a surgical procedure, or switching to formula, they might choose formula. Not counting the well-established reality that breast milk far exceeds formula, this sort of calculation leaves out the potential side-effects caused by being tongue-tied, which can last a infant’s entire life. Babies who are tongue-tied risk speech defects, sleep apnea and increased snoring later in life. It also adversely affects a child’s facial jaw growth. An infant’s facial bones are still forming after they’re born. If baby is tongue-tied, he or she can’t properly nurse on the nipple, which causes a V-shaped palate to form on the roof of the mouth, rather than the normal U shape. This V-shaped palate compromises a child’s entire facial structure and may lead to serious orthodontic issues, which is why doctors recommend a child with ankyloglossia have the procedure done sooner rather than later. It can save a family time, stress and money as the child grows into adolescence.
How does a mother know if their baby is tongue- tied? Unfortunately, most pediatricians are not trained to diagnose tongue- ties. Most of the time, the tongue- tie is noticed by the lactation consultant – but beware, not all lactation consultants are fully trained to spot a tongue-tie. An IBCLC – an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant- is the best bet to diagnose if your baby is tongue- tied. A good IBCLC can be a nursing mother’s best friend. When a tongue- tie is noticed, the IBCLC will make a referral to a dentist well-trained in laser frenum treatment.
Breastfeeding is one of the most special and rewarding experiences a new mother can share with her baby and one that sets an infant up for the best life outcomes going forward, from health to speech to a baby’s very appearance. Don’t let this amazing experience be taken away from you or your child