Amir LH Managing common breastfeeding problems in the community. BMJ. 2014; 348

Concern over delays to treatment of babies suffering from tongue-tie. 2014. (accessed 21 August 2017)

Brinkmann S, Reilly S, Meara JG Management of tongue-tie in children: a survey of paediatric surgeons in Australia. J Paediatr Child Health. 2004; 40:(11)600-5

Charmaz K Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis.London: SAGE Publications; 2006

Dykes F The education of health practitioners supporting breastfeeding women: time for critical reflection. Matern Child Nutr. 2006; 2:(4)204-16

Edmunds J, Miles SC, Fulbrook P Tongue-tie and breastfeeding: a review of the literature. Breastfeed Rev. 2011; 19:(1)19-26

Edmunds JE, Fulbrook P, Miles S Understanding the experiences of mothers who are breastfeeding an infant with tongue-tie: a phenomenological study. J Hum Lact. 2013; 29:(2)190-5

Finigan V, Long A The effectiveness of frenulotomy on infant-feeding outcomes: A systematic review. Evidence Based Midwifery. 2013; 11:(2)

Francis DO, Krishnaswami S, McPheeters M Treatment of ankyloglossia and breastfeeding outcomes: a systematic review. Pediatrics. 2015; 135:(6)e1458-66

Hill PD, Johnson TS Assessment of breastfeeding and infant growth. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2007; 52:(6)571-8

Ingram J, Johnson D, Copeland M, Churchill C, Taylor H The development of a new breast feeding assessment tool and the relationship with breast feeding self-efficacy. Midwifery. 2015; 31:(1)132-7

Ito Y Does frenotomy improve breast-feeding difficulties in infants with ankyloglossia?. Pediatr Int. 2014; 56:(4)497-505

Mason M Sample size and saturation in PhD studies using qualitative interviews. Forum: Qualitative Social Research/Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung. 2010; 11:(3)

Infant Feeding Survey 2010 Consolidated Report. 2012. (accessed 17 August 2017)

Messner AH, Lalakea L Ankyloglossia: controversies in management. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 2000; 54:(2-3)123-31

Division of ankyloglossia (tongue-tie) in babies with difficulty breastfeeding.London2005

Power RF, Murphy JF Tongue-tie and frenotomy in infants with breastfeeding difficulties: achieving a balance. Arch Dis Child. 2015; 100:(5)489-94

Segal LM, Stephenson R, Dawes M, Feldman P Prevalence, diagnosis, and treatment of ankyloglossia: methodologic review. Can Fam Physician. 2007; 53:(6)1027-33

Silverman D Doing Qualitative Research: A Practical Handbook.London: SAGE Publications; 2005

Smale M, Renfrew MJ, Marshall JL, Spiby H Turning policy into practice: more difficult than it seems. The case of breastfeeding education. Matern Child Nutr. 2006; 2:(2)103-13

Suter VG, Bornstein MM Ankyloglossia: facts and myths in diagnosis and treatment. J Periodontol. 2009; 80:(8)1204-19

UNICEF. Implementing the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly standards in universities: Learning outcomes and topic areas. 2014.

Webb AN, Hao W, Hong P The effect of tongue-tie division on breastfeeding and speech articulation: a systematic review. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 2013; 77:(5)635-46

Tongue-tie and breastfeeding: Identifying problems in the diagnostic and treatment journey

02 September 2017
12 min read
Volume 25 · Issue 9



Tongue-tie is a common condition that often adversely affects breastfeeding. There is research that suggests that frenulotomy can improve breastfeeding but there is also evidence of lack of professional knowledge on tongue-tie.


This was a qualitative interview study with GPs, midwives, health visitors and nine mothers to explore facilitators and barriers to receiving a diagnosis of and treatment for tongue-tie.


Mothers told a common story of having to push for support, experiencing diagnostic and treatment delays and suffering ongoing distress, which threatened their ability to establish breastfeeding. Mothers also described feeling vulnerable in the neonatal period, and witnessing a variation in professional knowledge about tongue-tie.


Variable professional knowledge, conflicting advice, and a delayed diagnosis can lead to a difficult patient pathway. Assessment for tongue-tie should be considered when approaching infants with feeding difficulties. Frenulotomy should also be considered and services made available where findings suggest the cause is structural and breastfeeding support has not helped.

Tongue-tie (ankyloglossia) is a common condition with a prevalence between 0.2 and 10.7% (Segal et al, 2007; Francis et al, 2015; Power and Murphy, 2015), and is defined as an embryological remnant of tissue between the under-surface of the tongue and the floor of the mouth that can restrict tongue movement. This is an important condition for primary care because it can cause breastfeeding difficulty for the mother and infant, including nipple pain, difficult attachment and increased bottle feeding rates (Segal et al, 2007; Suter and Bornstein, 2009; Edmunds et al, 2011). Mothers have described an ‘anticipatory dread’ towards breastfeeding an infant with tongue-tie (Edmunds et al, 2013). Tongue-tie can be obvious, such as with a restricting frenulum or heart-shaped tongue, but some infants may only be diagnosed after assessment of breastfeeding difficulties, positioning, attachment, tongue appearance and function, by practitioners with the appropriate expertise (Figure 1) (Hill and Johnson, 2007). Other causes of difficult feeding such colic, reflux, poor attachment, positioning, and inverted nipples would need to be considered (Amir, 2014). Assessment for tongue-tie is not part of routine UK neonatal examination and is usually identified by GPs, midwives or health visitors in the context of emerging breastfeeding problems. Tongue-tie, if it is symptomatic, can be treated with a frenulotomy, which involves snipping the tongue with sharp, round scissors. Bleeding is stopped by allowing the baby to feed, which compresses the wound (Edmunds et al, 2011). In 2005, UK guidelines from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) (2005) concluded that limited evidence suggested that when tongue-tie is thought to be a problem, division is both safe and able to improve breastfeeding where conservative measures such as frenulum massage and breastfeeding support have failed, although there is no published research to recommend frenulum massage.

Register now to continue reading

Thank you for visiting British Journal of Midwifery and reading some of our peer-reviewed resources for midwives. To read more, please register today. You’ll enjoy the following great benefits:

What's included

  • Limited access to our clinical or professional articles

  • New content and clinical newsletter updates each month