Do you know what can mimic a tongue tie? Terrible breastfeeding technique can. The number one cause of many breastfeeding concerns or issues is positioning and latch. A good latch is vital to milk transfer. Good supply is dependent on milk transfer. Weight gain, pees and poops are dependent on supply. Swing back full circle to latch and latch is dependant on good positioning. This is true in the majority of cases. Add in that good positioning and latch should also make things easy, comfortable and pain free for mother. It should also make things easy, comfortable and effective for baby.
When we see concerns with breastfeeding we must start with full maternal and infant assessment. This cannot be skipped. This includes a history on the birth and the start of breastfeeding, how feeding has been going, any know medical issues that contribute to breastfeeding concerns with mom and baby, a feeding assessment including positioning and latch, and structural exams of both mom and baby.
Sometimes we have breastfeeding issues and concerns that are easy resolved by refining breastfeeding techniques. It can be that simple. Sometimes you will get breast-feeding technique (position and latch) perfect but there is still lots of trouble. We have pain, we have inadequate transfer, we have low weight, low pees and poops, etc. These are times we need to look further. There can be lots of reasons for this but today I am going to highlight tongue ties.
Tongue tie or poor breastfeeding technique?
I am all for fixing tongue ties. If they are a problem they are better resolved than to be “pushed on through”. However, I am more if favour of through assessment of breastfeeding & comprehensive follow up if a procedure is deemed warranted which is why I am drawing attention to this point today.
Assessment of breastfeeding MUST include watching a feed amongst structurally examination of mothers and babies. And we have to address position and latch. The sooner we do this, the better. Why? Because if we have position and latch causing pain and damage, it is hard to tell if position changes are helping the pain or not. If we have damage and trauma, even a good latch will hurt until that is healed. So, then if look at a baby and see what visually looks like a tongue tie, we start to get blurred lines. The simple presence of a frenum is not a tongue tie. Diagnosing a tongue tie requires more than just looking. It is an assessment of function. Now when we are dealing with breastfeeding infants that function includes transfer of milk, weight gain, position needs, maternal comfort, visual of babies like folds in the lips, blanching of the frenum, blisters in the lips, etc. The people that can assist us in revision of ties are doctors and dentists and I am grateful to have them as part of our team.
But, let me ask you how many doctors and dentists are watching feeds? How many would know how to throughly assess a breastfeeding session? How many know what to look for structurally in a mother? And throughly for an infant?
Doctors and dentists that we rely on in resolution of breastfeeding concerns by revising tongue ties are typically only looking for a tongue tie as the reason to why you are presenting themselves to them. Their brains are actually wired to look for a possible intervention to try and resolve the issues based upon their skill level, experience and ability to help.
Have you heard this quote before? “If you hear hooves behind you, don’t expect to see a zebra when you turn around. Chances are it’s a horse.”
This means, first look for the simplest, common explanation to the problem presenting first. Once we have done this, then yes, we should go ahead and look for rarer & more problematic causes. In the medical community this is know as differential diagnosis.
How do you know what is causing your breastfeeding issues?
The most important key is to telling the difference between the horses and zebras. You cannot do this without a through evaluation, by a skilled practitioner. In the case of breastfeeding, these practitioners are International Board Certified Lactation Consultants. We have to be cautious of not assigning more importance to one element of breastfeeding than another, just because we think it is important or because we think the title of a certain practitioner is important or because that person thinks they are so important. There is another term for this which is “availability heuristic”. It is a bias towards things which you deem as more important because you readily recall it so deem it more probable. So, as someone looking at tongue ties most of the time this is front and centre in their minds. So, it is likely a dentist or doctor would go to tongue ties as a common cause of breastfeeding issues. As IBCLC’s we start at the basics, with the most common explanation of position and latch and move from there. The differential diagnosis mentioned about is what an IBCLC would do. This is why an IBCLC should be a first stop and why I think referrals for revisions of tongue ties should not be done without an IBCLC assessment.
I bring this up because I am seeing moms & babies after tongue tie revisions who I didn’t see before. I don't know what the baby looked like before but more importantly what I am seeing a little more frequently than what I would like is bad breastfeeding technique. I cannot help but wonder, if we had just corrected positioning, would that have been enough. Did we have a true tie or did we have symptoms of bad technique that are also symptoms of tongue tie. Looking back at the information presented above about assessments, evaluations, horses and zebras & availability heuristic people you can see where my concern is warranted.
Where do you go from here for support in resolving breastfeeding concerns?
Be wise in your selection of care providers when you are struggling with breastfeeding. Step #1 should be an assessment with a skilled IBCLC. From there we will make all appropriate referrals to other members of our team that assist with getting breastfeeding back on track. If you are in Regina or in the Regina area, I would be happy to help you navigate your breast-feeding challenges. You can give me a call or easily book online.