Call for guidelines on newborn tongue-tie procedures

By Regan Paranihi

A Wellington doctor says there’s an increase in tongue-tie cuts in newborn babies due to the pressure to get new mothers breastfeeding quickly.

Tongue-tie procedures improve breastfeeding as it involves snipping a tissue or band that connects a baby’s tongue to the lower jaw.

Wellington anesthetist, Graham Sharpe, called an urgent action over the surgery last month when an eight-day-old baby needed emergency care due to bleeding after the snip.

General Practitioner (GP) Annie Judkins says the procedure is lacking in some areas.

"The fact that they've instigated this process and the surgical procedure with no barriers, boundaries, and processes behind it are just a mockery, it’s a sham."

She says it introduces the idea that there's something abnormal about a baby and takes attention away from other issues that may be involved- such as domestic violence, depression, anxiety or exhaustion.

"I've seen one baby's tongue that I knew needed to be done.  I've never seen any others that I thought needed to be done, and I've put my fingers into thousands of babies' mouths to check their suck over the last 28 years."

The Ministry of Health's Child and Youth Health chief adviser Pat Tuohy says there’s an estimated 6,000 tongue-tie procedures that take place a year and occasionally some procedures do cause harm.

He adds that the ministry will now produce guidelines on it for everyone.

"Prior to this, we've been reasonably satisfied that professional groups have developed their own guidelines for their profession about the effective and safe way to address the issue of tongue-tie.

"It's clear from the Health and Disability Commissioner case that this has not been sufficient, and so we are happy to work to pull people together across a wider range of specialties," says Tuohy.

Waitemata Hospital ear, nose and throat surgeon David Grayson, says the hospital has followed Canterbury District Health Board which has reduced the number of these procedures by team decision-making involving lactation experts, midwives, and specialists.

"That's the best way where there is any doubt as to whether you should be doing it, that you've got somebody to defer to where you feel that there's somebody expert that can take it on and then decide.  But the decision itself is always done very much in conjunction with the mother."

The ministry says it's already begun work on assembling a group to work on the guidelines.