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Painful twist in tongue tie horror for newborn babies

 It’s estimated that tongue tie occurs in four to 11 out of 100 newborns (Photo: Shutterstock)

I’ve had personal experience of ­dealing with tongue tie – that bane of newborn babies and their worried parents.

One of my sons and two of my grandchildren were said to have tongue tie. I was pressured by ­midwives and health visitors to have the “tie” cut surgically, as were my daughters-in-law.

Knowing that tongue tie can resolve on its own as the baby grows, and that the diagnosis itself is questionable, I resisted the pressure and supported my daughters-in-law in turning it down too. None of our babies suffered.

So what is this vexed tongue tie?

Tongue tie, or ankyloglossia, is when the stalk of the tongue that tethers it to the base of the mouth, the frenulum, is judged abnormally short or tight.

It’s estimated to occur in four to 11 out of 100 newborns.

In some babies, it’s claimed to ­interfere with latching on to the breast, causing feeding difficulties.

But tongue tie is often in the eye of the beholder – there is no objective ­measurement.

Where mums and newborn babies are having problems getting ­breastfeeding going, tongue tie is wheeled out as an excuse and a reason. Midwives and health visitors often suggest surgery.

The evidence for tongue tie surgery is weak, but as ENT surgeon Lyndsay Fraser and colleagues from ­Kilmarnock and Glasgow point out, it’s standard ­practice in the UK to offer to cut the visibly tight frenulum with ­scissors in babies with feeding ­difficulties. Ouch!

 In some babies, it’s claimed to ­interfere with latching on to the breast (Photo: Shutterstock)

I come from a different place. The frenulum in a newborn baby is often short and it lengthens naturally as the baby grows. I prefer to wait and see.

Add to this there’s no good evidence that feeding improves after cutting it. But another more radical, cruel procedure is gaining ground, particularly on online parenting forums and within some breastfeeding support networks.

The concept of “posterior” tongue tie as a reason for feeding difficulties has gained credence. It is supposedly an invisible tight band at the tongue’s base that’s felt rather than seen so it’s hard to cut even if there was any evidence that it causes feeding ­issues, which there isn’t.

It isn’t recognised by the NHS, but to my horror, some private UK doctors offer to treat posterior tongue tie, usually for a hefty fee, using deep cutting with scissors or a laser.

This exposes a baby to unspeakable pain, which itself would deter feeding, bleeding, infection and long-term ­scarring without a scrap of evidence in favour of the procedure.

I can hardly bear to think of it. It shouldn’t be permitted without proper evidence it will help feeding.

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