Knot needed? Tongue-tie snips ‘a fad’
Health authorities have cut down on a popular procedure sought by mothers experiencing breastfeeding troubles due to concerns the practice has become a ‘‘fad’’.
The number of babies receiving tongue-tie surgery, which involves snipping the tissue binding the tongue to the bottom of the mouth, has increased dramatically around the world in the last decade.
In 2005, fewer than 100 babies received a frenotomy at Christchurch Women’s Hospital (CWH). By 2015, this had increased by over 700 per cent to 726 babies, a recent Canterbury District Maternity report said.
The increase prompted concern some babies were getting unnecessary surgery, leaving other causes for breastfeeding difficulties unidentified.
CWH trialled a stricter assessment in 2016 and found no statistical difference in how long babies who received the procedure and how long babies who did not were breastfed.
Since February, babies referred to lactation specialists get a full assessment to check for all possible causes of breastfeeding troubles.
The changes will lead to about 500 fewer frenotomy procedures this year.
Christchurch mother Kirsty Wilkinson’s 5-month-old son, Leith, was born with a heart-shaped tongue, which he cannot poke out. Her midwife immediately spotted he had a tongue-tie, which might need a snip.
Wilkinson decided against the procedure as Leith was ‘‘feeding like a champ’’.
She regretted having the surgery in Dunedin for her two older sons, Connor, now 9, and Cohen, now 6.
She said it had been ‘‘traumatic and heartbreaking’’ and made no difference to their breastfeeding.
Cohen had to have his tie cut twice after a hospital doctor ‘‘butchered it’’ within 24 hours of his birth.
‘‘We had to go see a specialist the next day. It was the worst experience and I felt in my gut it was wrong but I thought I was doing the best thing.
‘‘All that pain for my newborn with zero benefit.’’
She said medical professionals used to be ‘‘scalpel happy’’ with tongue-ties and she was glad they
‘‘All that pain for my newborn with zero benefit.’’ Kirsty Wilkinson
were reducing the number of surgeries being done and directing resources to more breastfeeding support.
But talked to several other Christchurch mothers who said they faced barriers to get the surgeries their babies needed.
One, who did not want to be named, said her son was not able to get the surgery done publicly and she had to pay $230 to have it done privately, which was ‘‘very frustrating’’ and unfair for families unable to meet the cost.
Another mother went paid $500 privately to get her daughter’s tongue-tie lasered at 14 months after a ‘‘horrendous first year with reflux issues, poor weight gain and no sleep’’. Her feeding problems were resolved within a week, she said.
Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) neonatal paediatrician and tongue-tie project clinical leader Dr Bronwyn Dixon said the procedure had become ‘‘the new fad’’.
Vulnerable mothers struggling to breastfeed were learning about it on social media, she said.
‘‘It’s a very emotive subject.’’
It was estimated between 1 and 10 per cent of babies had a tongue-tie, but half to two-thirds of those were able to feed well despite it, she said.
For others, it could cause discomfort and lead to recurrent breast infections, cracked nipples and breastfeeding issues.
‘‘There are some women who absolutely need a tongue-tie release [for their baby] and these women should be able to have it.’’
Kirsty Wilkinson, with her son Leith, 5 months, regrets getting the tongue-tie surgery with her two older children.