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Understanding the potential impact of tongue-tie on infant feeding


By Heidi Wicks

Tongue-tie has been linked to infant feeding difficulties and early cessation of breastfeeding.

Drs. Tiffany Lee and Laurie Twells received $18,800 from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) for their work on the topic of ankyloglossia (tongue-tie) and infant nutrition.

Public event

With a special focus on the assessment and management of tongue-tie, the local context of breastfeeding support and services in Newfoundland and Labrador will be discussed in an upcoming forum.

From left are Dr. Tiffany Lee and Fiona Cunningham and her daughter, Grace.
From left are Dr. Tiffany Lee and Fiona Cunningham and her daughter, Grace.
Photo: Chris Hammond

“Newfoundland and Labrador has the lowest breastfeeding rate in Canada and it is so very important to support mothers who want to breastfeed,” said Dr. Lee. “Breast milk is the ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants, providing all necessary energy and nutrients. We want to better understand the potential impact tongue-tie can have on breastfeeding, as well as the psychosocial impacts on the infant and parent feeding relationship.”

Birth cohort study

The Breastfeeding Research Group led by Dr. Twells is conducting a longitudinal birth cohort study called Feeding Infants in Newfoundland and Labrador. The objective is to examine what determines the intent to breastfeed as well as what makes mothers continue or discontinue.

Dr. Laurie Twells
Dr. Laurie Twells
Photo: David Howells

“Preliminary findings show that tongue-tie is a relatively common problem which presents significant challenges for the mother-infant breastfeeding dyad,” said Dr. Twells. “In fact, approximately five per cent of respondents who had intended to breastfeed pointed to tongue-tie as a serious problem affecting their breastfeeding experience. Some of the things the mothers noted were difficulty latching, sore nipples, pain, inadequate milk transfer, low milk supply and poor weight gain in the infant.”

These findings, coupled with Dr. Lee’s own personal challenges with breastfeeding an infant with tongue-tie, sparked her interest in exploring the potential impacts of tongue-tie on feeding.

“Approximately five per cent of respondents who had intended to breastfeed pointed to tongue-tie as a serious problem affecting their breastfeeding experience.” –Dr. Laurie Twells

Drs. Twells and Lee are also currently supervising a graduate student in the Faculty of Medicine who is conducting a qualitative study looking at mothers’ experiences and emotional well-being.

Public forum

With the funding, a research forum and public engagement event will be held Sept. 28-29 at the Suncor Energy Fluvarium, titled, Identifying Areas for Future Research and Clinical Management Strategies.

“We will have local, national and international speakers discuss a number of relevant topics, including the experiences of a breastfeeding mother, an evaluation of the current evidence and a discussion on where we go from here, and much more,” said Dr. Lee.

Families who have been affected by tongue-tie are strongly encouraged to attend the public forum on Wednesday, Sept. 28, from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Snacks and refreshments will be provided. Space is limited.
Please RSVP by Wednesday, Sept. 21, here. For more information, please contact Jillian Waterman.

“The parents will listen to a presentation about understanding the myths and facts of tongue-tie and its potential impact on breastfeeding, and they can then discuss their feeding frustrations, ask questions and receive information on where we go from here.”

This event also received support from the Office of Public Engagement’s Quick Start Fund.

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