Better care for babies with tongue-tie

File photo.

Babies born with tongue-tie will be assessed and treated consistently under new guidelines released by the Ministry of Health.

Around 5 per cent to 10 per cent of babies are born with a tongue-tie, or ankyloglossia, in New Zealand each year.

At least half can still breastfeed normally, but around 2 per cent to 5 per cent of babies may have difficulty breastfeeding.

“Tongue-tie is when normal movement of the tongue is restricted by a very short or tight band of tissue. In some tongue-tied babies, the tissue needs to be cut to allow more movement. However, this is not needed for all of them,” says Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall.

“So far there has not been any national advice relating to tongue-tie, and there may also be an unnecessary focus on the condition which may delay the management of other feeding related issues in babies. 

“We have heard the recent calls for urgent action in this area, with some health professional reporting an increase in the number of surgeries.

“The Ministry of Health held a meeting with health professionals on it in April last year to hear different viewpoints and develop consistent guidance.

"Several issues were identified including a lack of consistent information for consumers about the risks and benefits of surgical treatment for tongue-tie; inconsistent and inequitable access to treatment when indicated.

“While the surgery is minor, it’s not risk free. With the new guidance, parents can be reassured that no matter who is treating your baby or where you live, all health professionals are following the same advice to refer, assess and treat the condition.

“The guidelines also recommend that all practitioners performing the surgery continually audit their practice, and all referrals for breastfeeding issues related to tongue-tie are documented,” Dr Ayesha Verrall said.

National Guidance for the Assessment, Diagnosis and Surgical Treatment of Tongue-tie in Breastfeeding Babies is available here.

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