How you can navigate the effects of a tongue tie, get support, and find healthy sleep for your baby and for you.
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Tongue tie and sleep
Has your baby been diagnosed with a tongue tie? Does your intuition tell you to look deeper into a tongue tie or sleep issue even if there isn’t a diagnosis yet? The significance of tongue tie on sleep is multi-faceted. It can feel overwhelming, especially when you are already a tired parent. Remember that you are not alone. Let’s go over some reasons why you should reach out for help right now.
First, because of a tongue tie the baby has limited tongue mobility due to tightness in the frenulum. So instead of being able to breastfeed for long sessions, they eat in shorter bursts and they are hungry more often. The baby may want to eat every thirty minutes to an hour because they can’t get full in one feeding. Sleep deprivation and possibly slower weight gain can become serious issues.
Second, the baby has an improper latch on the breast, causing more air to be swallowed. This causes an excess of gas and many times colic and persistent crying creating difficulty sleeping soundly.
Third, an untreated tongue tie can lead to sleep disordered breathing (sleep apnea) because the tongue tie can cause abnormal anatomical growth of the face and upper airway. Sleep apnea can lead to more problems down the road including tonsil micro damage, problems swallowing or chewing, and narrow palate which can require orthodontic procedures to fix (International Journal of Pediatric Research). Open-mouth breathing, congested nose, and teeth grinding or clenching are other issues that can arise from untreated tongue-tie.
This is an exhausting situation because the mother is constantly feeding and burping the baby. The mother and baby are both sleep deprived and cranky. The “witching hour” can be even more difficult, that is the window of time at night when a baby can be harder to soothe–with or without sleep problems. A tongue tie and over hungry baby can heighten exhaustion in parents and make sleep problems in babies seem like mountains to climb.
Symptoms of a tongue tie
There are many symptoms of a tongue tie. When a tongue tie is suspected, these are some common complaints from the mother.
Baby nurses on the end of the nipple
Nipple pain and/or damage
During a feeding, an audible clicking sound can be heard (lip tie particularly)
Persistent crying and a gassy baby
Low milk transfer from the breast to the baby, “I’m still engorged, and the baby has nursed for the last 45 minutes and is fussy like she is still hungry”
Baby is always hungry, but only feeds for 5-10 minutes at a time
What to do about tongue tie? Get Support!
Call in your helpers. No mama during the postpartum period should be without help. If your baby has a tongue tie or you are navigating other sleep problems with your baby, help can be imperative! Call your support network, whether friend, family or religious community to bring meals, do dishes, care for siblings, do laundry, etc. Reach out for help so that this mountain can become manageable with your focus on the hike in front of you.
Next, help the baby. See a certified lactation counselor (CLC) or international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) who has expertise on ties. Get referrals from your birth team! A CLC or IBCLC cannot diagnose a lip or tongue tie, however, they can evaluate how breastfeeding is going and rule out other possibilities. They can point out “limited mobility” and give proper local referrals. When seeking out a CLC or IBCLC ask if they have experience or education on this topic. Many CLC’s/IBCLC’s have a niche specialty, so ask for references.
If the baby has a lot of body tension, consider bringing the baby to a bodyworker that can help release the tension. Sometimes, once the tension is released, so is the tie. This is most successful if done within the first few weeks of life. Adequate bodyworkers include pediatric specialists in massage, physical therapy, craniosacral therapy, myofascial therapy and chiropractic care. Craniosacral and myofascial therapists seem to have the best outcomes (depending on the practitioner). Breastfeeding should continuously improve with bodywork care.
Sometimes bodywork is not enough to correct a tongue tie and a revision is required. Once again, go to the expert. Get referrals and travel if need be to get the best care possible. Laser revision has benefits over scissor revisions, especially with a lip-tie revision which can bleed. Post revision, your baby may instantly latch better which brings instant relief. Other babes need more post care. Trust your mother’s intuition and seek further follow up if you feel it’s necessary.
A Myofunctional Therapist has been a proven asset when addressing tongue tie and sleep apnea. With tongue ties and sleep apnea, a myofunctional therapist can help with exercises for the muscles around the face, neck, and tongue. Past research shows that myofunctional therapy can improve sleep apnea symptoms by 50% in adults and 62% in children. A 2024 data compilation shows that improvements are dependent on compliance with the program and how well the individual sticks with the exercises given for the tongue tie and sleep apnea. It is worth the work you put in. Get support through Cura Sleep Group to find out how a myofunctional therapist can help your child!
Keep your health wellness team close as you navigate tongue tie and sleep issues. See the lactation adviser after the revision for follow-up care, particularly for post revision exercises. An occupational therapist may also be a proper referral to help the baby break poor nursing habits and learn proper latch. Another visit to the bodyworker may also be in order as the procedure itself can cause neck and jaw tension.
Continue asking for help from your support network until the balance in home life is found. It can be a long road depending on the baby and situation. Keep the faith and have hope. Remember that you are not alone.
8. Reach out today, right now, for help. Cura Sleep Group believes that families should be held with care and connection throughout the journey that leads to healthy and whole sleep. Healthy sleep is possible. Let’s start that journey together.