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What's causing Tongue-Tie and Lip-Tie? Here's our thoughts

“I’ve been in practice for over twenty years, and there is a phenomenon that seems to be more prevalent. One thing that seems to crop up more is tongue-tie and sometimes lip-tie,” said Dr Katie Pritchard.

What Is It?

Practitioner with babyMedically referred to as ankyloglossia, tongue-tie is when the tissue underneath the tongue that anchors it to the floor of the mouth is too tight or short, affecting the ability for movement and function of the tongue in the baby. The main thing affected is usually breastfeeding or latching, and sometimes bottle-feeding.

Babies can also sometimes have a lip-tie, which is when the tissue between the back side of the top lip attaches too tightly to the gum. This condition affects babies and their feeding, because the baby cannot turn the lip out to create a good latch on to a breast or a bottle.

Between 3-11% of the population experiences either tongue-tie or lip-tie, and boys are more likely to have a tongue-tie than girls.

The Effects on Baby

“For new babies, these ties can have devastating effects down the line, because they have to survive in the world, and to survive, they need to feed,” said Dr. Katie. Often, with these new mums and babies, they’re not able to feed effectively, and that could be a big problem, not only nutritionally, but also psychologically for the mother and the baby.

A tongue-tie creates difficulties for the baby to attach to the breast or bottle. A baby may feel either they can’t attach, or they’ll be unsettled and appear hungry often. They may fail to gain weight.

Sometimes while breastfeeding, a baby with a tongue-tie will make a clicking sound. These signs also mimic signs of colic or signs of neurogastric distress. What that means is that when there is nerve interference, which affects how the brain can communicate adequately with the gut, a baby can be restless and not put on weight or flourish.

Why Do Tongue-Ties Happen?

There is one theory which talks about the possibility, if there is a mutation of the MTHFR gene, that it will affect our ability to absorb and utilise folate, which is vitamin B9. It’s a really important vitamin that we need, and we primarily get it through our diet. This vitamin has important functions, but in pregnancy you will have heard that folate is important because it helps reduce the impact or prevalence of a neural tube defect.

To avoid deficiency, mums-to-be want to fortify their diet, or try to eat as many B9-rich foods, which can be found in many leafy green vegetables, and lots of other foods. In Western culture, women have been advised to supplement during pregnancy to boost their folate intake. They take folic acid, which is then converted to folate, but it’s not done efficiently in the body.

One theory is that because of the increased amounts of folate pregnant women take, or they’re trying to boost their folate during pregnancy (to fortify or enhance tissue synthesis), that sometimes has a negative impact on a baby’s midline structures. This piece of tissue called the frenulum, where the tongue is tied, is tightened so much because of an increased intake of the folic acid or folate.

“In that delicate time when those midline connective tissue structures form, the increased intake of vitamin B9 causes a tight tissue synthesis with a tighter closure of that midline structure, which potentially leads to a tongue-tie,” said Dr Katie.

The Impact of Nervous System Stress

If Mother or Baby or both experience excessive amounts of mental, emotional, physical or even chemical stress during preconception or pregnancy and birth, that tends to fire up the sympathetic nerve system, which is what we need in a stress situation so that we can fight, flight, freeze, and essentially protect ourselves.

However, if we operate in that sympathetic drive too much for too long, what can happen is it can tend to increase tone in our tissues. “So if we have a stressed baby, or they have experienced a stressed pregnancy and birth, that potentially could drive the tone up in their system, which then leads to increased tone in those tissues along the midline—so a tongue-tie or lip-tie,” said Dr Katie.

Where Chiropractic Fits In

By adjusting a baby’s nervous system, that brings the infant back into a parasympathetic drive, which helps reduce the tone in the system and tension in the tissues that attach the lip to the gum, and the tongue to the bottom of the mouth.

Our team of chiropractors are trained to support both Mother and Baby on their feeding, and well-being journey. Chiropractic care supports the nervous system to best function from a state of ease, meaning both you and baby reap the benefits of care. These techniques are gentle, specific and supportive of optimal well-being from pregnancy onwards.

If you suspect your newborn has a tongue-tie or lip-tie, we want to help you have a positive experience breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. We are here to support you in any way we can. Contact us today to book an appointment.

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