A Lip Tie and the Breastfed Baby

Hunter's post-frenectomy photo
National Breastfeeding Month continues the rest of this week! Read on for another breastfeeding-related post.

If you read my breastfeeding story during World Breastfeeding Week earlier this month, then you know that we had some early challenges. Well, the challenges started up again once Hunter got teeth. My theory is that the new teeth kind of threw him off and caused his latch to become lazy. Nursing became pretty uncomfortable after that, and I just wasn't sure what we could do to remedy the situation.

Somehow I ended up on mommy blogs and mommy forums looking up information on lip ties. (If you have no idea what this looks like, check out the photos here.) As I mentioned previously, Hunter had a posterior tongue tie that we had clipped. But at the same appointment, I also pointed out that his upper lip was pretty tight. The ENT doctor who performed the frenotomy on the tongue tie confirmed the lip tie but said he'd never heard of it affecting breastfeeding. He mentioned that he'd rather be conservative and not clip the lip, but if things didn't improve, he urged me to come back and reevaluate the lip tie. The thing is that breastfeeding did improve, so I stopped worrying about the lip tie.

After all my research, though, I learned that most ENTs, pediatricians, and dentists don't know much about lip ties, especially in relation to breastfeeding. It turns out that it can affect a baby's latch. A tight upper labial frenulum prevents a baby's upper lip from curling outward, creating a proper "seal" along the breast. Instead it curls inward, allowing the baby to gulp air and milk to dribble out. Gulping air can lead to excessive hiccuping and reflux, which were all symptoms Hunter was having.

In addition to affecting latch, a tight upper frenulum can lead to tooth decay as well as cosmetic issues (a gap between the teeth). Isaiah and I discussed the benefits of getting Hunter's lip tie corrected and decided to go for it. We found a pediatric dentist in Southern California named Dr. Jesse who practically wrote the book on this topic, and he corrected Hunter's lip tie with a laser procedure. (Note: Clipping the lip merely loosens the lip, but a laser procedure removes the extra tissue in both the gums and lip.) It was awful for about five minutes, but in the long run, we believe we did what's best for our boy.

Nursing did improve, and so has Hunter's reflux, but having more movement of the upper lip has not erased the fact that Hunter has a bunch of teeth he's not sure what to do with. It's kind of hit or miss with this boy. Sometimes he latches on no problem, and sometimes it's a lazy latch and his teeth rub against my breast, so I have to unlatch him and try again. Although getting Hunter's lip tie corrected did not solve all our issues, they did diminish. Plus, the large gap he had between his two front teeth has already closed up a bit. I'm glad that his "new" lip has already started to improve his quality of life.

The reason I bring this all up is that there are mamas out there who look at their babies and they see the lip tie but don't know what it means. And the people who are supposed to help us figure it all out don't know much about it either. I believe severe lip ties are more common than we realize, but somewhere along the way people forgot about them. As far back as the late 17th century, it was standard practice for midwives to check for tongue ties immediately after birth and clip them if present. Not one person (including two lactation consultants, pediatric nurses, and pediatricians) during the three days we were in the hospital after Hunter's birth mentioned his tongue tie. It wasn't until I went to see a private LC three weeks later that I would learn about his tongue tie. Could it be that with the advent of formula and the rise in hospital births there was a dip in the number of women breastfeeding and birthing with midwives, so we stopped looking for tongue and lip ties? Who knows. All I know is this: Even if this post helps just one mama do something about her child's lip tie, then it was worth bringing some awareness to my little corner of the Internet.

In addition to the link to photos I mentioned above, here are some links to resources that helped me:
Penniless Parenting
Baby and Bump Forum
Tongue Tie and Lip Tie articles at Nurtured Child
Mamasaymamaso Blog
Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths


  1. With the laser removal do you still need to do the stretches afterward? That part almost seems worse to me. (My dd is 15 months and we are battling decay so getting near her mouth I'd already a bit of a challenge!)

    1. Hi Stacey! yes, you still need to do the stretches! We didn't do stretches after the tongue tie clip. Instead, we swiped a gauze pad dipped in a little liquid across the area 5 times a day. I think it depends on the doctor. But Dr. Jesse made it clear that we would need to stretch the lip after the lip tie removal. It was awful! but for me, the actual procedure was the worst because he was screaming! but getting his lip stretched every waking hour just caused major fussiness. Good luck with your DD! sorry to hear about the tooth decay :(


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