What is Upper Lip Tie and How Does it Impact Breastfeeding?

How does upper lip tie affect breastfeeding? Learn what upper lip tie is, how it can affect nursing, and how it can be resolved for a better feeding experience.

mom sitting in chair and nursing newborn baby next to green plant

While breastfeeding can sometimes prove challenging, it should never be painful. If you find that it is, the source of the pain could be that baby isn’t latching properly. While this is a common breastfeeding challenge – after all, your little one was just born a couple of hours or days ago! - there are many possible reasons behind why he or she may have latching difficulties, one of which is a condition called upper lip tie.

If you have a newborn with a lip tie, try not to stress, mama! Lip tie is usually easily treatable and typically doesn’t affect breastfeeding, though the condition may need to be resolved prior to a proper latch being achieved.

What is Upper Lip Tie?

Frenulum is the tissue located behind your baby’s upper lip. Lip tie is a fairly common condition where that skin is attached to the gums and is too thick or stiff to allow their upper lip to move freely. There are multiple symptoms that could indicate your baby may have an upper lip tie, including:

  • Struggling to latch properly
  • Making a clicking or smacking sound when breastfeeding
  • Reflux caused by swallowing too much air
  • Colic or irritability
  • Difficulty breathing while nursing
  • Slow weight gain
  • Fatigue after nursing

Lip tie is different from tongue-tie, which is a condition that affects and limits the flexibility and use of your baby’s tongue. It is unclear what causes these conditions, but many medical professionals believe that they could be genetic. Neither tongue-tie nor lip ties are uncommon. 

Talk to your pediatrician or a lactation consultant if you think your baby may have lip tie. In addition to the symptoms your baby may experience, you’ll also want to share with your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Pain while nursing
  • Cracked or painful nipples
  • Engorgement, blocked milk ducts, or mastitis
  • Challenges with your breast milk supply

How Does Upper Lip Tie Affect Breastfeeding?

If your baby has lip tie, he or she may struggle to nurse because they’re unable to establish a proper latch. This can lead to your little one not getting enough milk and/or lead to the decision to wean early and supplement his or her diet. Additionally, if left untreated, lip tie can lead to issues like tooth decay and/or speech difficulties later in life and/or as your little one grows up.

How to Fix Upper Lip Tie

If your baby is diagnosed with lip tie, a pediatric dentist can quickly and easily perform a frenectomy to treat it. Typically, the dentist will apply a numbing cream to your baby’s gums and then use a small handheld laser to remove the piece of skin connecting your baby’s lip to his or her gums. This is usually a quick procedure that may cause some discomfort, though healing is generally quick and uncomplicated. Some pediatricians also perform this procedure.

As the inside of your baby’s lip heals, you’ll need to “stretch” the area several times each day to prevent the skin from growing back together. Though your pediatric dentist or healthcare provider will guide you on how exactly to do this, it usually consists of inserting a clean finger into your little one’s mouth and gently massaging the area until it is completely healed.

Following the procedure, you can breastfeed your baby as soon as you’re both ready. Although some babies display immediate improvement, others may still need to learn how to latch properly and adjust to breastfeeding in a new way. This can take some time, so try not to feel discouraged and remember to be patient as you and your baby learn together. If you prefer to wait before resuming or re-attempting nursing, you can pump breast milk for your baby until your little one’s mouth is completely healed. This will also help you maintain your milk supply if you’re not also frequently nursing!

Treating your baby’s lip tie early on will improve the breastfeeding journey for you both, as well as continue to give your little one the strongest start toward a healthy life.

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