Inside the Booming Business of Cutting Babies’ Tongues

Tess Merrell had breastfed three babies and never expected trouble with her fourth. But after a month of struggling with her newborn, she hired Melanie Henstrom for help.

Ms. Henstrom, a lactation consultant, identified a culprit: The infant’s tongue was tethered to the bottom of her mouth. It was a common problem, she said, and could be fixed with a quick procedure at a dentist’s office.

“It was touted as this miracle cure,” said Ms. Merrell, a high school soccer coach in Boise, Idaho.

Ms. Henstrom recommended a dentist, who in December 2017 cut under the baby’s tongue with a laser. Within days, the infant, Eleanor, was refusing to eat and had become dangerously dehydrated, medical records show. She spent her first Christmas on a feeding tube.

For centuries, midwives and doctors have been cutting such “tongue-ties” to ease breastfeeding. But the procedure’s popularity has exploded over the past decade as women face intensifying pressure to nurse.

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