Studies show about 2 percent to 5 percent of babies have constrictive tissue under the tongue and about half of those babies have problems with breastfeeding, said Isabella Knox, M.D., Ed.M, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington. About 4 million babies are born in the United States annually, meaning that between 40,000 and 100,000 babies are born each year with a tongue tie problem.
"That's a lot of babies," Knox said. "I don't think general pediatrics training gives us a lot of skills in supporting breastfeeding. A lot of pediatricians have lactation consultants, but we don't really know how to help somebody and for some people it is not always a priority."
In Sullivan's report in Pediatrics, she describes a patient who ended up in the hospital with feeding and growth problems, which could have been avoided if his tongue tie had been corrected as a newborn.
The baby's mother was following expert advice and exclusively breastfeeding. She had noticed the problem when her child was born, but doctors told her not to worry about it. Eventually, she was referred to an oral surgeon, but was told no one would operate on the baby until he was at least 6 months old.
To his parents, whose eldest child had been premature and small, the baby seemed to be growing. But by the time he was 6 months old, he weighed less than he did at birth, Sullivan says. "He gained about 2 pounds in a matter of 36 hours in the hospital, and all we really did was fix his tongue," Sullivan said. "This is just one example, an extreme example, of what happens when you do not fix this problem."
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breast milk is considered the optimal food for babies. Studies have shown that exclusive breastfeeding offers infants some protection against diseases and common childhood illnesses, such as ear infections.
|Contact: April Frawley Birdwell|
University of Florida