Do you suspect your little one might have a lip tie? Maybe you know they do and are waiting for the procedure to have it corrected? Has the lip tie affected your breastfeeding journey? I was in your shoes, right where you are now. It’s hard, painful, exhausting and even a little scary. That’s why I want to share my breastfeeding experience with my youngest, with the hope that it’ll ease your mind, show you you’re know you’re not alone and help you navigate your next steps.
Before diving into my story, I share some basic lip tie info:
- What is a lip tie?
- Lip tie symptoms, for mom and baby
- Getting a diagnosis
Then, I share my experience with:
- Breastfeeding in the first six weeks
- Learning he had a lip tie
- The laser correction procedure
- Breastfeeding after lip tie revision
Let’s get started.
Lip Tie Info
What is a Lip Tie?
We all have tissue under our upper lip that connects our lip to our gums. This is called the frenulum. Some babies are born with extra tissue that attaches their lip more tightly which makes it hard for baby to get a good grasp on the breast, or a good latch. Most babies who are lip tied are also tongue tied. (This was the case with both of my sons.)
Lip Tie Symptoms
I didn’t know anything about lip ties before learning it was a possibility from a lactation consultant (more on that in “My Story” below). My youngest was 5 weeks old and gaining weight like a champ. But he had lots of other symptoms, and so did I. Had I known what to look for, I might have sought support sooner and gotten some relief!
Note that not all symptoms are necessarily present, or present at the same time. Below are the symptoms that either mom or baby might experience, I’ve marked the ones that we experienced with a *.
- Nipple pain or damage*
- Incomplete milk removal* – this can lead to mastitis, undersupply, etc.
- Discomfort or pain while nursing*
- Sleep deprivation* (This was the biggest issue for me.)
- Difficulty latching
- Falls asleep at the breast, only to wake up soon after to nurse again*
- Reflux and colic symptoms
- Upper lip blister*
- Poor weight gain
- Does not or is unable to take a pacifier*
- Clicking noises while sucking
- Popping on and off the breast often*
How to Get a Lip Tie Diagnosed
Not all pediatricians are able to diagnose a lip tie. Because of the impact it can have on breastfeeding, I believe it’s important to get a second opinion. Here’s where you can seek help:
- Community support group: Breastfeeding support groups in your area might be able to connect you with the help you need. Check to see if there’s a La Leche League meet up near you, or if any of the hospitals nearby offer breastfeeding clinics (typically free). Many are run by lactation consultants.
- Pediatric dentist: Check to see if your area has a pediatric dentist. The lactation consultant who first suspected my son’s tie referred us to one in our city – they were able to confirm and revise the tie (details below) on the same day.
- IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant): Look for someone with lip tie experience. I never consulted an IBCLC, but know of moms who have and found them to be incredibly helpful – not just for diagnosing lip ties, but for improving their breastfeeding relationship overall too.
The First Six Weeks
Before my youngest was born, I was determined to make a real effort to breastfeed him. I wasn’t able to breastfeed my first. We tried, but it was all so overwhelming — he wasn’t able to latch well, it was painful and he was a spitter. I felt the need to know how much he was eating and exclusively pumped for 10 weeks. When this also became overwhelming, I threw in the towel and switched him to formula.
I 100% believe fed is best, and what’s best for mama is best for baby. I also know that with my first, I didn’t understand that breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It’s a relationship which requires work, patience and flexibility. And it’s okay, expected even, to ask questions and seek help when you need it.
While in the hospital after giving birth to my youngest, I held him skin-to-skin as much as possible and encouraged him to nurse frequently, starting minutes after he was placed on my chest. I asked for help — the nurses looked at his latch with me, and the hospital’s lactation consultant came to our room and gave me advice on positioning and encouraging him to open his mouth. It was uncomfortable, my nipples were raw in less than 24 hours, but the lactation consultant said this was normal and that if the pain subsided within 30 seconds of him latching, everything was fine.
And so we went home and continued on. He was gaining weight like gangbusters and the pain went away when he was about three weeks old. But he was eating for 2, 3 and even 4-hour stretches day and night, barely coming up for air, every day for weeks. This tied me to the couch or his rocking chair, keeping me from spending much quality time with my toddler and family — and oh my, the sleep deprivation.
I took him to a breastfeeding support group run by a lactation consultant at the hospital every week while on maternity leave to do weighted feeds — we’d weigh him before and after feeding on a hospital scale to know how much he was eating down to the tenth of an ounce. Based on his age and weight, he wasn’t taking in enough during his feedings, and so he was eating constantly to keep up with his hunger and growth.
Learning He Had a Lip Tie
I was probably a week or two away from throwing in the towel, until at one visit to the breastfeeding support group, when he was five weeks old, the lactation consultant asked to look inside his mouth. She saw what she suspected to be a lip tie and sent in a referral to a local pediatric dentist. The calluses on his upper lip, an indication that he wasn’t latching well and was working hard to feed, had tipped her off.
Within the week, we had our appointment at the pediatric dentist’s office. They did an initial exam which confirmed a Class 3-4 lip tie, where the frenulum that attaches the upper lip to the gums attached between where his front teeth would be. This was keeping him from “flanging” his lips fully, limiting the depth of his latch.
The dentist also noticed he had a slight tongue tie. Together, these ties were hindering his ability to nurse effectively, but they would possibly also affect his teeth and speech in the coming years. They recommended laser correction.
The Laser Correction Procedure
When they took him back for the laser correction procedure, I wasn’t able to go with him. It was gut wrenching to wait in the lobby, but mercifully quick. They told me that they’d swaddle him snugly, play music and turn on cartoons to help soothe him. The laser procedure took about 30 seconds after that. The laser cauterized the wound instantly, so there was almost no bleeding. They said he didn’t cry at all, and he was pretty content when they brought him back to me.
Recovery from Lip Tie Correction
He was able to nurse right away, and they encouraged me to feed him often to help him get used to the wider range of motion in his upper lip and tongue. Moving his lip and tongue frequently would also help them heal correctly, making sure the frenulum didn’t reattach in its pre-correction position. So his “post-op” care also included running my finger between his lip and gums, and under his tongue several times each day for two weeks. He never seemed to mind it, ate well and didn’t need any pain medication during the healing process.
After two weeks, he had a quick check up and everything had healed great.
How Breastfeeding Improved After Lip Tie Correction
After fixing his lip tie (and his tongue tie), breastfeeding improved for us in several ways over the course of a few weeks:
- His feeding times shortened. No more 1+ hour feedings!
- The time between feedings lengthened, and this mama started to get a few breaks.
- He was less gassy and started to sleep better, which means I finally, FINALLY, started to get more sleep.
- His weighted feeds at the breastfeeding support group showed that he was taking in more milk per feeding.
I will be forever grateful to the lactation consultant who discovered his lip tie and made the referral. Getting it fixed saved breastfeeding for us, truly.
If you’re currently struggling with breastfeeding, I encourage you to seek support from a lactation consultant. You can often get the help you need for free at your pediatrician’s office, through your hospital, with La Leche League and more.