The number of Australian babies having surgery for tongue-tie has quadrupled in the past decade. The question is, are all these surgeries really necessary?
A new study, published in The Medical Journal Of Australia, shows that in 2006, 1580 children in Australia had the surgery, according to Medicare data. By 2016, this number had risen to 9947.
Tongue-tie is an abnormality of a tissue under the tongue, which limits the movement of the tongue, and can potentially interfere with feeding or speech. Surgery to cut the tissue is called a frenotomy, and can be carried out with scissors or a laser.
One of the study authors, Dr Vishal Kapoor, says there could be a number of reasons why the surgery is becoming more common, one being a resurgent interest in breastfeeding. He says there’s also the possibility of over-diagnosis.
“If the breastfeeding doesn’t get established, there’s obviously a lot of emotional and physical stress for the mother,” he tells Mamamia. “There is also the mushrooming of an industry around providing tongue-tie surgeries.”
He believes social media could be having an impact, with women sharing stories online of how tongue-tie surgery has helped them with breastfeeding. But what works for one woman might not necessarily work for another.
"Most of the time babies have difficulty in establishing breastfeeding due to reasons other than tongue ties," he points out.
Dr Kapoor says there is "little reliable evidence" for the benefits of tongue-tie surgery.
That means that some babies could be having this surgery unnecessarily.
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There's no Australian data available on the side-effects of the surgery, according to Dr Kapoor. However, he says there's a risk that it can cause problems for some babies, including pain, minor bleeding and, uncommonly, significant bleeding.
"Anecdotally, some babies may get an aversion to feeding if the parents are advised to stretch the wound site," he adds.
For any parents who are told that their baby has a tongue-tie and should have surgery - especially if they are told their baby has a "lip tie" or a "posterior tongue-tie" - Dr Kapoor suggests getting a second opinion from a medical practitioner who is registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and has experience with newborns.