For new mothers, seeing their baby coughing and gagging while breastfeeding can be alarming. And understandably so! Figuring out why the baby is having difficulties and correcting them is of the highest priority.
One possibility that I urge mothers not to overlook is the existence of a tongue tie. As I’ve described in another post, a tongue tie is an overly taut and restrictive lingual frenulum, which is the whitish cord underneath the tongue that attaches to the bottom of the mouth.
A tongue tie can limit the mechanics of a baby’s mouth in ways that prohibit effective breastfeeding. How? Mainly, a tongue tied baby’s mouth will slip down to the end of the nipple and “nipple feed” instead of breast feed. This is because the range of motion of baby’s mouth is limited or it requires too much effort for he/she to open his/her mouth wide enough for a sustained period of time to properly latch.
Baby Choking On Milk Mechanics
A baby choking on milk often does so because of the inability to create a seal around the nipple. Limited lip and tongue mechanics make it challenging for the baby to maintain a proper seal. So, air is allowed in during nursing. If an infant’s tongue cannot adequately achieve a normal peristaltic wave pattern during swallowing due to a restrictive frenulum, the swallowing mechanism will be impaired.
If a mother is faced with difficulties breastfeeding, seeking out a reputable lactation consultant is an appropriate first step. Lactation consultants are trained to offer immeasurable support and identify potential issues to best guide mom and baby in their unique breastfeeding relationship. Many lactation consultants are able to identify tethered oral tissues that may be contributing to a baby choking on milk at the breast.
Fortunately, a tongue tie release is a quick and straightforward procedure for a trained and knowledgeable practitioner. There is a healing process after a lingual frenectomy that allows the baby to regain proper flexibility and strength of the tongue and lips before effective breastfeeding can resume. See my post about the procedure for more details about what to expect, and make a consultation today.