A programme was introduced in Canterbury, New Zealand to evaluate the diagnosis and treatment of frenulum releases in newborn infants with suspected tongue-tie (ankyloglossia). The primary goals were to support breastfeeding and ensure that unnecessary surgery was avoided.
Local healthcare professionals reached consensus on a pathway for improving management of infants with tongue-tie and breast-feeding difficulties. This embedded an expert breast-feeding review and assessment of lingual function using a validated method, the Bristol Tongue-tie Assessment Tool (BTAT). Infants with breastfeeding problems related to tongue-tie had a frenotomy at a hospital outpatient clinic. An education programme was developed to support introduction of the new clinical pathway and included seminars and online information for healthcare professionals and the general public.
Frenotomy intervention rate reduced markedly from 11.3% in 2015 to 3.5% by mid-2017. Feeding methods were not different before or after surgery between infants who received a frenotomy and those who did not. Initially, the BTAT threshold for frenotomy was set at ≤5, however the final clinical pathway combined a breastfeeding assessment and a BTAT threshold of ≤4. The education programs assisted with the changes in practice, while increased use of the clinician guidance and public health information websites confirmed growing awareness of tongue-tie and community breastfeeding support.
Establishing consistent multidisciplinary assessment of tongue-tie in infants with feeding difficulties led to a marked reduction in frenotomy intervention rate. 23% of the frenotomy group in the 2016 audit showed a significant improvement in the ability to breastfeed, but overall there was no difference in the feeding pattern of infants who either received or were declined a frenotomy. The development of a supportive education programme and availability of online information about tongue-tie for health professionals and consumers contributed to successful uptake of the new clinical pathway.