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Lip Tie in Babies – Definition, Symptoms and Management
It’s no surprise that learning what works best for you and your baby may take some time. After all, you’re still getting to know each other. And feeding your baby is no different— whether you are breastfeeding, bottle feeding, or both. Regardless of which method you choose, feeding often adds additional stress to you or your baby. In addition to the run-of-the-mill issues, some babies are born with a lip tie, which may induce feeding difficulties. Babies can have both a tongue tie and lip tie, which can affect breastfeeding, bottle feeding and oral health.
What is a lip tie?
A lip tie is a condition where a piece of tissue, also known as the labial frenulum, connects the upper or lower lip to the gums and is either too short or too tight. This can restrict the mobility of the baby’s lips, making it difficult to form a tight seal while eating.
The good news? Not all lip ties are a cause for concern. Although, as a parent, concern for your baby is inevitable.
The bad news? Lip ties commonly go undiagnosed. They are, however, more likely to be identified if tongue ties are also present.
What is a tongue tie?
A tongue tie, formally known as ankyloglossia, is a condition where the tissue connecting the tongue to the bottom of the mouth is too short or thick. This can restrict the mobility of the mouth, make it difficult for the baby to eat, and cause other problems as the baby grows older. Tongue ties are much more common than lip ties, so they are often inspected during your baby’s examinations.
What does a lip tie look like?
Unfortunately, babies’ initial examinations do not typically include checking for this condition, so what would generally be an easy diagnosis may not be identified until issues arise. By that point, it’s common for mothers to have already given up on breastfeeding and opted for bottle feeding by way of pumping or baby formula due to these complications.
Mild cases may not cause any issues for mom or baby, however, more severe cases of a lip tie often result in a poor latch and weak suction. To get a proper seal around the breast, the baby’s lips must have adequate mobility, and a lip tie can drastically limit this mobility. This can cause your baby to swallow too much air, making them uncomfortable and fussy.
When it comes to lip tie symptoms, bottle feeding and breastfeeding alike will be accompanied by certain signs.
Top 4 signs that your baby may have a lip tie:
- Painful latch
- Sore, cracked nipples
- Drooling / milk spilling – due to ineffective suck swallow
- Baby weight concerns
Other lip tie symptoms:
- Poor suction while nursing
- Frustration or fussiness during feedings
- Head bobbing and tight fist-pounding
- Difficulty breathing during feeding
- A clicking sound during feeding
- Cluster feeding
- Colic or reflux like symptoms
- Callus or blister on baby’s lip
- Difficulty taking a pacifier
How baby’s lip tie affects mom:
For breastfeeding mothers, it’s common to experience nipple soreness and cracking at the start of your breastfeeding journey, however, this typically goes away after the first couple of weeks. Mothers breastfeeding a child with a lip tie may continue to experience complications past this initial adjustment period. These issues may include:
- Pain during and/or after breastfeeding
- Sore, cracked nipples
- Frequent clogged milk ducts or mastitis
- Engorged breasts, even directly following breastfeeding
If you find that you or your baby are experiencing any of these issues, consult your healthcare provider to have your baby evaluated for a possible lip tie. A lactation specialist, pediatrician, or pediatric dentistry practice can evaluate the baby’s mouth using a classification system to grade the severity.
Lip tie problems later in life
Breastfed babies appear to be affected the most. Many parents find that, while their baby has trouble breastfeeding, they can take a bottle without issues. Other babies, however, have difficulty getting an adequate seal to drink from a bottle.
As the baby gets older and begins to eat solids, they may struggle with spoonfeeding due to the limited mobility of their tongue and lips.
In addition to feeding issues, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) states that as your baby begins to get teeth, a lip tie can cause milk to pool around the teeth and gums. This can cause cavities and tooth decay. The condition can also result in long-term speech development delays as the child gets older.
Lip tie treatments
While learning that your child may have a lip tie can feel stressful and overwhelming, it’s typically not cause for concern. Even so, there are several treatment options that may be considered, depending on the severity of the lip tie.
For nursing moms, it’s possible that simply working with a lactation consultant may help resolve any issues concerning lip ties and breastfeeding. They may provide a list of exercises to stretch the tissue over time.
They may also suggest trying different positions while nursing or nursing more often so the breasts don’t become too full, making it harder for the baby to latch. Bottle-feeding may be another option, as it typically does not require the baby’s mouth to open as widely as breastfeeding may.
A lip and tongue tie revision (also called a frenectomy or frenotomy), may be recommended for more severe cases. These procedures are typically quick, taking only a few minutes. During a revision, the area is numbed with local anesthesia before the frenulum is cut with a scalpel or via laser surgery. This will help loosen that tissue and allow for better lip and tongue mobility.
While a lip tie revision can feel scary, improvements can typically be seen in as little as one to two weeks after the procedure. This quick procedure could drastically change the entire feeding experience for babies who have been struggling with a lip tie, so it’s important to discuss any concerns you have about a possible lip tie with your medical professional.
If your little one has a lip tie, baby bottle feeding and breastfeeding can be difficult, uncomfortable and stressful. Take some time to talk to your pediatrician or lactation consultant; they can help confirm the diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.
Don’t hesitate to get help if you feel like you and your baby are struggling—there is hope!
Verified by Jadah Parks Chatterjee, BS, RN, IBCLC, Nurse, Lactation Consultant and Bobbie Medical Advisor.
- Lip Tie: Revision and Complications/Medical News Today
- Tongue-Tie/Johns Hopkins Medicine
- Just Flip the Lip! The Upper Lip-tie and Feeding Challenges/American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
- Frenotomy/Stanford Medicine