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Is Procedure to Help Babies 'Latch On' Worth It?

Photograph by Twenty20

One of the most common concerns new mothers have is that their baby is unable to "latch on" while breastfeeding. For some, finding the right position can be a frustrating and painful experience, often requiring the aid of a lactation specialist. But what happens when none of the tips, tricks or techniques work? What if the baby is simply "tongue-tied"?

According to Dr. Bill Chambers of Great Beginnings Pediatric Dentistry in Asheville, N.C., getting some newborns to properly latch on is as easy as scheduling a one minute (give or take) procedure.

"In about 3 to 10 percent of the infants born, they have an abnormal remnant of tissue of membrane called a frenulum ... and this attaches to the tongue or lip," Dr. Chambers told WLOS 13, an ABC station in North Carolina.

A frenectomy is a dental procedure that uses a CO2 laser to precisely, quickly (we’re talking 20 seconds for the lip and 30 seconds for the tongue) and painlessly vaporize the tissue.

"This is one of the few procedures done in medicine or dentistry where two people get the benefit of the procedure," Chambers added. "The baby gets the benefit because they're now able to properly nurse, and the mother gets the benefit because she can now nurse, and it creates that mother-child bonding."

Mom and frenectomy supporter Hannah Mathews shared her struggles with WLOS 13. She recalled feeling guilty and sad that her son Victor, now 2 years old, was unable to latch onto her breast when she was nursing.

"After you give birth, you have all kinds of emotions,” she said. “Not being able to nourish your baby makes it even more emotional.”

Though Mathews admitted that it was scary to imagine having her baby undergo a procedure at such a young age, she is now a huge proponent.

After you give birth, you have all kinds of emotions. Not being able to nourish your baby makes it even more emotional.

She told reporters that her son was able to latch afterward, and that the experience was rewarding. In fact, when the newest member of their family, baby Clara, was diagnosed with the same problem a few weeks ago, Mathews did not hesitate to schedule an appointment.

"In my opinion,” said Mathews, “it's very worth it."

Dr. Chambers said that children who need a frenectomy, but don't get it, often encounter growth, sleep and speech issues. He added that insurance companies will typically cover the cost of this procedure.

But not everyone is on board with Dr. Chambers. Slate recently published an article that challenges the benefits and evidence surrounding this procedure, stating that the "the big difficulty lies in identifying which tongue ties matter."

In 2015, the Daily Telegraph called the procedure "bizarre" and warned parents about "the dangerous fad that’s hurting children."

Though most of the naysayers offer limited evidence to support the dangers involved, surgery—no matter how minor—is always risky.

As with anything that's related to your baby's health, first talk to your pediatrician.

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