Knot needed? Tongue-tie snips ‘a fad’

The Press - - Front Page - CE­CILE MEIER The Press

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.

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