Though you may associate the term with someone who is having trouble talking, being tongue-tied is also a term for a condition that many babies are born with. Medically, the condition is know as ankyloglossia. Babies with the condition have a short frenulum. You’ve probably never heard the word frenulum before, but it’s a fancy term for the band of skin that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth. At birth, most people have a frenulum that is long and allows for full tongue mobility. However, up to 2% of babies are born with ankyloglossia. As you can imagine, the condition greatly interferes with the ability for a baby to use his or her tongue, which could have negative implications for babies that are breastfeeding.

Many women know that they’ll probably give birth to a baby with the condition because it is hereditary. However, some new moms are still caught off guard, and it’s important to check and make sure your baby is not tongue-tied at birth. The easiest way to find out is to have your baby stick his or her tongue out. If you can get your baby to try but he or she can’t extend the tongue beyond the lower gum, there might be a problem with the frenulum. Babies who are tongue-tied will also have a heart-shaped tongue because the middle will be pulled down by the frenulum. You can also try putting your finger in your baby’s mouth. If he or she tries to suck on it but can’t extend the tongue beyond the bottom lip, there’s a good chance your baby has ankyloglossia.

If your baby is not breastfeeding, it’s okay to hold off on surgery to solve the problem. In many cases, the frenulum recedes naturally after a year or so. If you want to breastfeed your baby that has ankyloglossia, a surgical procedure might be required. The procedure is called a frenotomy, and it’s amazingly simple. Your doctor will snip the frenulum. Your baby might be in pain temporarily, but the skin contains little to no blood, so it’ll heal quickly and your doctor will recommend that your baby start breastfeeding immediately.

Though the procedure is safe, many doctors prefer the “wait-and-see” approach, which is fine if you’re not breastfeeding. On the other hand, you might want to seek out a willing doctor if you want to nurse your baby.

Source: E Post et al: “Snipping of a Tongue Tie” in Neonates with Ankyloglossia and Breastfeeding Problems: Outcomes and Complications. Archives of Disease in Childhood Volume 97 2012