Q. What does it mean if a baby is born with "tongue-tie"?
A. Under the tongue is a membrane called the lingual frenulum, which connects the bottom of the tongue to the floor of the mouth. "In some people, it's barely visible, and in other people there's a fairly thick band from the tongue to the floor of the mouth," says pediatrician Michael Grosso, chief medical officer at Huntington Hospital. When a baby is born with a membrane that is too tight, it can tether the tongue to the floor of the mouth and cause restriction of the movement of the tongue, he says.
A baby needs to be able to use the tongue when feeding. "In particular, it interferes with breast-feeding," Grosso says. "It interferes with the baby's ability to get adequate milk." The problem can be discovered because a mom has nipple pain during breast-feeding or upon physical examination by a pediatrician. About 5 percent of babies are diagnosed with a tight lingual frenulum, a condition with the formal name of ankyloglossia. It's commonly called tongue-tie.
Not every baby with the problem has to be treated, he says. "It depends on what degree it's interfering with the feeding," he says.
Correcting the problem is "a very, very minor procedure," Grosso says, which can be done during the first weeks of life. "It usually is done with local anesthesia," he says. A doctor, usually an ear, nose and throat doctor, will clip the membrane. "It creates almost immediate relief of the problem," he says.