I recently received the following question from a reader concerning her infant’s lip and tongue tie. Today, I’m going to share a good bit of information with you on lip and tongue ties in children in case you or anyone you know may need it. I’ll also be sharing how I would approach this situation if it were my child with a tie, and how I’d go about managing their treatment as naturally as possible.
I have a question, which I would like to know what you would do as an RN, herbalist, and most importantly, a mama.
Our baby was born 4 weeks ago, at 35 weeks gestation. He is a healthy baby boy, and we’re so thankful! We’ve had breastfeeding issues, and I’ve been pumping and supplementing. I believe the main reason for our issues is due to his upper lip tie and posterior tongue tie.
While I would prefer to have the procedure done with a laser, it’s just not possible for us due to distance/finances/insurance. A local ENT can do the procedure with scissors.
What options do I have for a newborn to help with pain and inflammation? I’m looking for something that would be used for the procedure, as well as the 2 weeks afterwards for exercises to keep the wound from re-attaching. I’ve heard clove oil is used for teething. Are there herbs/essential oils/something else that you would recommend? I don’t know what is typically used to kill pain in this kind of procedure, but would prefer something natural for him.
If you have any advice or recommendations, it would mean so much. 🙂
All About Lip & Tongue Ties In Children
What Are Lip & Tongue Ties
Lip and tongue ties are when the thin piece of skin under the tongue or between the lip and the gum (the frenulum) are longer than they are supposed to be, limiting the movement of the lip or tongue.
There are several places where frenula are common on the body (brain, digestive tract, mouth, genitalia), but when it comes to the mouth, they’re located beneath the tongue, on the upper and lower lip, and at the back of each cheek. Frenulum means “little bridle,” and their purpose is to attach the tongue, lips and cheeks to the other tissues in the mouth.
If the frenulum is longer than normal, it’s considered a midline defect, and they tend to run in families. Other similar midline defects include cleft lip and palate, cleft chin, extra or missing teeth, and deviated septum.
How Are Ties Found
The most common way lip and tongue ties are identified is when a baby has ongoing trouble nursing and mama experiences continued pain because baby isn’t latching on correctly. Tongue ties are usually the cause, but lip ties can also contribute to nursing problems as well since they cause issues with how the lips are shaped during latch on.
The extent of lip and tongue ties are different for every child, and although it may seem that they are becoming more and more common, it’s actually that they’re being identified better these days because ties have been around for a long time.
Speaking of identifying them, you can get a step-by-step guide to checking for lip and tongue ties, with the help of the foremost expert on lip and tongue ties in the US, Dr. Kotlow, if you suspect one in your child. After checking your child yourself, if you think your child has a either kind of tie, and you’re concerned that it could cause problems down the road, it’s best to consult with a professional (child’s doctor, dentist, midwife, lactation consultant, or an ear, nose, and throat specialist) to come up with the best plan of action for your child and situation.
What Causes Lip & Tongue Ties
It’s hard to say for certain what causes lip and tongue ties as it’s not really known. They are known to run in families so it’s thought that they can be genetic.
How Are Lip & Tongue Ties Treated
A simple surgery called a frenotomy or frenectomy ( where the skin beneath the tongue is snipped with sharp scissors or cut with a laser) is the common treatment for lip and tongue ties. This procedure has been around a LONG time, and is a basic, minimal, same-day surgery that is common practice among several medical professionals such as general practitioners, ear, nose, and throat specialists, and even some midwives! In fact, back in the day, many midwives did this on every baby by taking a sharp fingernail and cutting the membranes under the tongue of all babies they delivered. Yowzers!
Okay, back to the modern day surgery. Basically, this type of tongue tie surgery is a simple procedure without a lot of risks, and most times there are no problems, minimal pain and minimal bleeding. In fact, it only takes about 5-10 minutes to do.
My 5 year old niece recently had this same procedure done on her tongue as she had a significant tie there. Thankfully it wasn’t a big deal for her, and I don’t think the pain was bad. I’m not sure if the age of a child makes much of a difference or not, but usually babies do better with these types of procedures as they’re less active at their age.
This kind of surgery is supposed to immediately correct tie issues, however, it’s debated as to whether it’s really needed or not. This debate usually centers around putting a child through surgery for cosmetic purposes only (as ties can lead to gaps in teeth) or because many kids outgrow them (some professionals think they stretch or shorten with age), however, as more ties are being identified, so are the health problems that are associated with them. This association of ties and health problems is what leads many parents to have this minor surgery done on their children.
Health Problems Associated With Ties
The most common problem experienced with ties are in babies that have trouble latching on and nursing from mama. This can mean that mama ends up having lots of pain, many times engorgement, and sometimes mastitis. Most often it leads to early weaning of baby and onto bottle-feeding of baby formula or pumped breastmilk.
Lip and tongue ties can also lead to decreased sleep, increased risk for thrush/yeast, colic, reflux, and gaps in teeth as well as other issues that can develop later in life such as dental decay (from food and milk being trapped in the pockets beside the ties) and speech problems (since the lip and tongue can sometimes be limited in movement).
Is Surgery The Best Option?
Unfortunately, I can’t answer that for you. Like I said before, if you suspect a lip or tongue tie on your baby, it’s best to seek out a professionals opinion to see how bad the tie is and what their thoughts on whether it needs corrective surgery or not. Not all ties need surgery.
If you do opt for surgery, you can see below what I’d do if it were one of my baby’s needing this type of treatment and I wanted to go about managing their post-surgery care naturally.
How I Would Personally Approach Lip & Tongue Ties
I’ve never dealt with tongue tie in any of my kids, but if I had, I think I would have opted for the surgery.
Now I’m a natural mama that, most times, likes to let the body do its own thing as I believe God knew what He was doing when He designed us, but when it comes to something like a lip or tongue tie that is extreme and can cause more problems later on down the road, I’m okay with and grateful for a little bit of intervention… especially since it’s not very risky.
If I were to have the surgery on one of my children, below are the steps I’d follow.
Step 1: Research
The first thing I’d do in this situation would be to research and find out all I could about this type of procedure. What is the surgery like, what risks are involved, what medications are given, what’s the follow-up treatment like, etc.
Once I had answers to these things I’d do what I could to substitute natural things in place of less natural… where possible of course.
From what I found online, a doctor numbs the area, snips the skin under the tongue or lip (or uses a laser if you opt for that version of the surgery), and then lets baby nurse. That’s it. What I didn’t find was whether they used anything such as creams or antibiotic gels afterwards… only Tylenol for pain.
Exercises are also encouraged after the procedure because they can heal back together and then you’d have to have the procedure repeated. Here is an article from Dr. Kotlow that explains lip and tongue ties as well as the exercises you need to do.
Step 2: Trading “Less Natural” For “More Natural”
When it comes to numbing… I would have baby numbed during the procedure. There isn’t a natural replacement for that as natural things like herbs and oils are not that strong, and if they are, they aren’t to be used on babies. For example, clove essential oil does numb, but only on the surface. And, it’s not to be use on children under 2 years of age because it’s STRONG. In fact, no essential oils are recommended for infants. It really only starts at 6 months and then it’s in very diluted amounts.
So, as far as natural things go, from what I know, I’d make an herbal ointment. This can be used on the wound sites after the procedure. Not only can it help with preventing infection, but also with pain and bleeding depending upon the herbs used. Plus, I think it will help the wounds from re-attaching as it keeps the tissues slippery. I’d probably slack up on using this as the wound begins to heal on its own (6-10 days).
I’d also use some things to help baby relax better before and after the procedure. For this, I’d use some Rescue Remedy and an calming herbal tea. I’d do both as one is flower essences and one is whole herbs. They’re both herbal, but they work in synergy with each other.
And of course, I’d nurse baby as often as they wanted during this time. I usually let my babies set their own feeding schedule and then try to stick close to those times, not just let them eat every time they cry, but after something like this, I’d definitely slack up in that area and let them nurse freely to comfort themselves.
Below you’ll find the recipes for these remedies if you decide you want to use them.
Natural Remedies For Tongue Tie Surgery
I mentioned that I’d use Rescue Remedy before and after the procedure to help baby relax, dosing via the inserts recommendations. I also said that I’d use a calming herbal infusion as well. For this, I’d give baby 1 tsp. using a dropper every 30 minutes for the first 2 hours after the procedure followed by 1 tsp. hourly for the rest of the day. The following recipe is for 1 pint of infusion which should last 1 day.
Put herbs in pint jar. Herbs should fill the jar half full. Boil water in a tea kettle and pour over dried herbs in jar. Put lid on. Let sit for 4 hours minimum. Strain herbs and compost them. Sweeten infusion with maple syrup if needed. Store in refrigerator and use as needed.
Tongue Tie Salve
Next, I’d use the following herbal salve on the wound as often as the doctor recommends. If they don’t suggest anything, I’d use it after each time baby nurses.
1 ounce of coconut oil
2 ounces of olive oil
1 tsp. whole cloves
1 tbsp. calendula flowers
2 tbsp. yarrow
*Add more olive oil if you need more to cover the herbs.
Combine your herbs and oils in a jar and put the lid on. Place the jar on a dishcloth in a crock pot. Add water until it comes to 1 inch of the top of the jar. Let it heat on low heat for 3 days. Add more water as it evaporates out. After 3 days, strain your herbs and put your oil in a saucepan over low heat. Add in a small amount of beeswax and mix until it melts. Test a bit of your oil on a cool surface to see how hard it gets. You want it to be the consistency of soft Vasaline. Add more beeswax if you need it to firm up more or more olive oil if you need it to be softer. As soon as the consistency is right, pour your liquid in a jar or a 2 oz. tin and let it sit to firm up. Be sure to label it!
So there you go. A bit about lip and tongue ties, plus, what I’d do naturally if it were me.
I hope this helped answer this readers question, and if it applies to you, then I hope it helps you too. As always, I’m human, and I make mistakes. Do your own research and come up with your own answers. I’ve provided some great research links below in the reference section for you to use if you wanna look into things more.
Now it’s your turn…
Have you ever dealt with a lip or tongue tie in your baby? If so, what did you do? Leave it or have surgery? How did it go for you, and if you chose surgery, how did your kiddo do? do you or dad have one? has it affected you, if at all? Share your stories and advice in the comment section below.