Mother who struggled to breastfeed tongue tied baby ‘let down’ by NHS services

A mother-of-two has revealed how she was let down by hospital services after she had trouble breastfeeding her baby who was tongue tied.

Clare Sinton, from Bristol, described breastfeeding a tongue-tied baby as an “excruciating, unbearable, helpless” experience.

Tongue-tie is a condition that affects about 10 per cent of newborn babies in the UK, where the strip of skin connecting the tongue and the floor of the mouth is unusually short or tight.

About half of babies affected will require treatment, known as a frenulotomy as the condition can sometimes affect feeding. Some babies struggle to latch on to the breast, but the condition can sometimes be difficult to spot and awareness of it as an infant feeding issue is generally poor.

When Ms Sinton gave birth to her daughter Lily in October last year, breastfeeding “felt wrong from the get-go”.

“It was excruciatingly painful,” she told BBCNews. “It felt like someone was dragging barbed wire or blades through my nipples. I breastfed my son for 19 months so I knew what it should feel like.”

She added: “I was crying with every feed. It felt like she (Lily) had a beak, like a turtle clamping down on me.

“I was beside myself. I was in pain constantly 24/7. I was dreading every feed and Lily was feeling the tension in my body.”

She suspected her daughter might have a posterior tongue-tie, but after raising her concerns with a midwife at Southmead Hospital, Lily was unable to receive a diagnosis.

A simple procedure available on the NHS can solve the feeding issues almost immediately. However some parents opt for private treatment to avoid waiting, which can cost up to £400. Some mothers may choose to stop breastfeeding altogether due to the baby’s difficulties, and they can also experience pain, nipple damage, mastitis, blocked ducts or breast abscesses.

Lily underwent the quick procedure after Ms Sinton researched private treatment, which made feeding “immediately” better.

But parents, like Ms Sinton, have said they face many obstacles trying to access services and support.

She continued: “It’s amazing that in this day and age you still have to fight for an assessment or diagnosis, and then still pay for an urgent procedure, despite it tearing you to shreds and risking your ability to breastfeed.”

Following her experience, Ms Sinton is calling for better training for midwives and health visitors to diagnose tongue-tie.

The The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has said that training on supporting mothers whose babies have trouble breastfeeding due to tongue-tie is included in their midwifery training, as well as additional training on recognizing the condition, how to treat and support it.

Michelle Lyne, education adviser at RCM, said: “There is clearly a need for more research around tongue-tie, so that a definitive definition of what it is and when it is present can be agreed, so that evidence-based guidelines for support and treatment can be developed.

She added that often babies with the condition “will have no symptoms” and it can resolve by itself. Problems may also not appear until midwife visits have stopped 10 to 14 days after birth, making it more difficult to receive a diagnosis.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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