Better care for babies with tongue-tie

By Te Ao - Māori News
Kawerau mother Jess Massey (Te Arawa) who spoke to Te Ao in 2018 about her first baby Waiora's problems with tongue-tie.  Photo / File

New guidelines to ensure better care for babies with tongue-tie have been released by the Ministry of Health.

“Tongue-tie is when normal movement of the tongue is restricted by a very short or tight band of tissue. In some tongue-tied babies, the tissue needs to be cut to allow more movement. However, this is not needed for all of them,” Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall said in a statement.

Around 5% to 10% of babies are born with a tongue-tie, or ankyloglossia, in New Zealand each year. At least half can still breastfeed normally, but around 2% to 5% of babies may have difficulty breastfeeding.

The guidelines are a response to calls for urgent action in this area, with some health professional reporting an increase in the number of surgeries, Dr Verrall said. 

"Several issues were identified including a lack of consistent information for consumers about the risks and benefits of surgical treatment for tongue-tie; inconsistent and inequitable access to treatment when indicated."

Dr Verrall said the guidelines would ensure all health professionals follow the same approach.

"With the new guidance, parents can be reassured that no matter who is treating your baby or where you live, all health professionals are following the same advice to refer, assess and treat the condition.

“The guidelines also recommend that all practitioners performing the surgery continually audit their practice, and all referrals for breastfeeding issues related to tongue-tie are documented.”

In 2018, Te Ao reported a Wellington doctor's concerns that there was an increase in tongue-tie cuts in newborn babies due to the pressure to get new mothers breastfeeding quickly. 

We also spoke with Kawerau mother Jess Massey (Te Arawa) who lived in fear that her first baby Waiora would not eat because she had tongue-tie.

"Knowing that my child was starving and there was nothing I could do about it," she said, believing she had not received enough support.

"I sort of just felt like we were swept under the rug."

Watch the interview with Kawerau mother Jess Massey.