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HealthInfo Canterbury

Tongue-tie problems

crying newbornMost babies born with a tongue-tie don't have any problems breastfeeding and don't need any treatment.

But for some babies, the tongue-tie means they can't move their tongue well enough to feed effectively. These babies may also have difficulty latching or staying latched on to their mothers' breasts. Babies with a severe tongue-tie can also have problems bottle-feeding.

Some babies have difficulties latching straight after birth even when they don't have a tongue-tie. However, it can take time for both mother and baby to recover from birth and learn how to breastfeed. Once they do, these problems often go away.

Signs a baby's tongue-tie is causing problems

If your baby's tongue-tie is making it difficult for your baby to latch on, or stay latched on, you will notice some of these signs.

For the mother

For the baby

All these signs can also happen because of other things, so it's important to have a breastfeeding assessment to see what is causing the problem.

Getting a breastfeeding assessment

If you are worried about how your baby is feeding and think they may have a tongue-tie, ask to have a breastfeeding assessment. Your midwife, GP, practice nurse, or Plunket nurse can refer you to the free lactation consultant service at St George's Hospital if you live in urban Canterbury or Waitaha Primary Health if you live in rural Canterbury.

During the assessment, a lactation consultant will talk to you about your baby's feeding history. They will watch your baby breastfeeding and adjust your breastfeeding technique if necessary. They will also look at how your baby's tongue is moving and how their frenulum is attached.

The lactation consultant will use a simple scoring tool to determine the amount of tongue-tie and whether it needs to be treated.

Your baby can be assessed as early as two days after they are born if they have severe feeding problems. However, it's best to wait for a week to let normal feeding patterns develop.

On the next page: Treating tongue-tie

Written by Canterbury lactation consultants and a neonatologist. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2017. Last updated May 2019.


Page reference: 164359

Review key: HIBRF-24381