Tongue Problems

Latching Issues Jan 5, 2021

If you are worried about the amount of milk that your baby is receiving, you can read:


Newborn Tongue Thrust

Newborns have a natural reflex called the tongue-thrust reflex, which helps them to push their tongues forward to clear their mouths of any unwanted substances. This reflex can make it difficult for some newborns to latch on to the breast properly during breastfeeding.

A tongue-thrust can cause the baby to push the nipple out of their mouth with their tongue, making it difficult for them to maintain a good latch. This can cause discomfort for the mother and can also lead to poor milk transfer, which can affect milk production and weight gain in the baby.

There are several techniques that can help a newborn with a tongue-thrust reflex to breastfeed more effectively:

  • Positioning: Make sure the baby is positioned close to the breast with their nose level with the nipple. This will help them to open their mouth wide and take in more of the areola.
  • Compression: Applying gentle pressure to the baby's jaw with your fingers can help to keep their mouth open and prevent them from pushing the nipple out with their tongue.
  • Latch and release: Before each feed, try to get the baby to open their mouth wide and latch on to the breast. If they push the nipple out with their tongue, break the seal by gently slipping your finger into the corner of their mouth and then try latching them on again.
  • Wait for the baby to open their mouth: Don't force the nipple into the baby's mouth, wait until they open their mouth wide before guiding the nipple in.

It's important to note that some babies may outgrow their tongue-thrust reflex quickly while others may take longer. A lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist can help you to work on these techniques and troubleshoot breastfeeding issues.

newborn breastfeeding

Certain things can increase the risk of tongue thrust

  • When a baby is born prematurely.
  • When a baby has a high muscle tone.
  • When a baby has been bottle-fed.
  • When a baby has been given a pacifier.


Tongue Tie

A little membrane anchors the tongue to the bottom of the mouth, called the frenulum. If this small piece of skin is too short or tight, it does not allow the baby to extend their tongue for proper latching and milk transfer.
Over time, a baby’s frenulum will stretch, but if it causes breastfeeding problems, it is best to have the skin snipped at the doctor’s office.

Learn more about tongue tie here.


Nipple Confusion & Tongue Problems

If a baby is given a pacifier or bottle before six weeks of age, there is a chance that the baby will learn to position the tongue incorrectly for breastfeeding. Artificial nipples are firm and do not fill the mouth.
More information about nipple confusion here

Anatomy of the Tongue

If a baby’s tongue is very thick or long, it could cause some difficulty. This is usually the case with Down's Syndrome children.
A baby with a short tongue may have problems keeping the breast in the mouth, but as the baby grows, so does the tongue, and they should have no trouble breastfeeding from about six weeks onward.
Some babies may suck their tongues back or curl the tip of the tongue up. Usually, a baby has a humped, short, or flat tongue.

Signs That Baby Has Tongue Problems

  • It seems that the baby is chewing while breastfeeding.
  • The baby’s tongue is heart-shaped due to the pull of the short frenulum (tongue tie).
  • The baby makes clicking sounds while breastfeeding, indicating poor suction.
  • The mother cannot hear her baby swallowing any milk while feeding.
  • The baby keeps popping off of the breast.
  • The mother has sore nipples because of a bad latch. The baby’s hard palate is rubbing against her nipples.
  • The mother's nipples are folded over after a breastfeeding session.
  • The baby keeps pushing the breast out of their mouth when trying to latch on. (tongue thrust).
  • The baby seems to have an unusually large or small tongue.


Fixing the Tongue Problems

  • Wait for the baby to drop their tongue before latching on. Keep the baby’s head in position while feeding.
  • Ensure the baby opens their mouth wide before latching on.
  • Get the baby ready for the breast just before feeding. Place your clean finger on the middle of your baby’s tongue with the soft part of your finger on the tongue. Apply gentle pressure and allow your baby to suck. Use your other hand to put gentle pressure on the baby’s jaw. Do this for about a minute before putting your baby on the breast.
  • Relaxation therapies are often used in the case of tongue thrust. The mother can rock the baby and use skin-on-skin contact.
  • Lying down while breastfeeding can often provide extra support for a baby with tongue problems.
  • Some mothers find that the straddle, or any upright breastfeeding hold, can help a baby latch on because gravity pulls the tongue down. This is useful if the baby keeps pushing their tongue up towards the palate.
  • If the baby struggles with nipple confusion, it can help to use a teat that has an extended length to it; this will help transition the baby to the breast.
  • If the mother is struggling with sore nipples, it is best to change breastfeeding positions often; this will help keep the pressure on different sections of the nipple.
  • A baby with a short frenulum can be taken to a doctor or dentist to have it snipped, allowing for free motion of the tongue.
  • As a last resort, the mother can use a nipple shield to help her baby latch on.

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Tracy Behr

Mom of two, breastfeeding helper, and lover of all things natural! Studying a breastfeeding counselor course via Childbirth int. & plant-based nutrition via the Nutrition Inst.

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