When wondering if your baby might have a tongue tie or lip tie, many questions arise. Shared here are some visible, physical features babies with Tethered Oral Tissue may manifest. In dialoguing with hundreds of moms, these seem to come up again and again. These tips can also be helpful for doulas and other first-responders helping breastfeeding moms in the early days.
Before we begin, a few notes:
Image 1: Lip blisters are often thought to be a normal part of nursing, but these can actually be a sign of something more. That cute little callus under your baby’s philtrum could show he has to compensate with extra lip-grip versus being able to stay latched to the breast via a well-moving tongue and lip combo.
An upper lip that doesn’t easily fan over the breast often folds (image 2) or tucks (image 3) during nursing. If baby has what I term “smeared lipstick mouth” after nursing, this shows the lip didn’t flange as it should. Of course this can be positional, as well; if this frequently occurs, even with increased attempts to improve baby’s latch, it can be something to super sleuth.
Image 2: Accordion fan of a tight lip – see that horizontal line under the nose? Instead of opening to the breast, the upper lip folds. The crease will show as a red line once baby unlatches, as in image 1.
Image 3: Another compensation for a tight upper lip is that it tucks inward. Some moms can manually turn out the lip by sweeping with a finger; other moms report the lip seems to turn into a tight band of tissue that is difficult to manipulate – it depends on the flexibility of each baby’s frenulum and lip.
Image 4: An easy way to get an idea of potential for tongue tie is to flip the upper lip and see how the frenulum attaches to the gums. This is less invasive than digitally checking your baby’s tongue. Many professionals agree, 90% of the time there is an upper lip tie, there is likely a posterior tongue tie. This can be a key in deciding how to proceed.
Figure 5: “Two-tone tongue” is a phrase Cathy Watson Genna shared with me when I mentioned something I noticed on my own baby. It is often mistaken for thrush, but often there is a line across the tongue, unlike thrush which can come in patches and doesn’t seem picky about where it develops. If the tongue has impairment in function, it doesn’t get the normal help shedding cells (think about a tongue scraper), and the white color reflects that.
Figure 6: Another low-hanging fruit feature is how a baby’s palate looks. When a baby cries, yawns, or is just hanging around, you can often take a peek to see his palate. Ideally, the palate is a horseshoe-shaped, wide surface, because proper swallowing and tongue movements shaped it before birth. Babies with restrictions often have vaulted palates – arch, bubble, channel, or otherwise, due to their inability to make these ideal movements.
Figure 7: I don’t know if there is a technical term for this, but many moms report their babies have “tongue dents.” These dents can occur as the tongue is being pulled by the underlying restrictions.
Figure 8: When crying, a baby’s tongue may curl or cup up. Again the force of the restriction is controlling the range of the tongue’s motion.
Figure 9: If you feel brave enough, and baby complies, you can try to feel for the frenulum yourself. Your baby may be upset by this, but as his parent, your fingers will be the most comforting to him – so if you are really wondering what’s going on, get in there and see for yourself. Place baby in your lap with his feet at your knees and come in from above his face. Gently use your index fingers to try and lift his tongue...and better if you have a partner ready to snap some pictures.
I don't claim to use proper terminology. I always welcome feedback and corrections. Find me on Facebook.
Much appreciation to Dra. Kelly Marques Oliveira, IBCLC, for translating this into Portuguese.
Tongue Tie Babies Support Group, on Facebook. A peer group with over 20,000 members. A great place to learn local option, ask all your questions, and get support from other families impacted by ties.
Advocates for Tongue Tie Education (ATTE) is a group for parents and professionals. Resources on their website include parent info sheets, educator packets, provider toolkit, and a tie gallery. They also have a Facebook group.
Catherine Watson Genna is a treasure trove of information. She is a woman with vast experience and an inquisitive mind, and she offers her knowledge on her website, in books and papers she authors, and in presentations that she travels around the world to share.
Dr. Bobby Ghaheri has been exploding with informative, relevant blog posts. He is not only an incredibly experienced ENT who performs revisions, he is also a father and husband whose introduction to the world of ties came through his wife and baby.
Dr. Larry Kotlow has a great site that can be a starting point for any parent looking for pictures and presentations.
Beverly Morgan is an IBCLC who wrote an exhaustive article full of tons of links, and she shares her own experience of revision as an adult.
Dr. Brian Palmer made extensive contributions to the world of breastfeeding and infant oral health. His website addresses ties, palate and jaw development, caries, and more.
International Lactation Consultant Association is the best place to find an IBCLC who can assess and evaluate a breastfeeding dyad's situation.
International Affiliation of Tongue-Tie Professionals (IATP) is the leading professional organization, and IATP offers resources for parents as well.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)