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Don't underestimate the way paid paternity leave benefits moms, babies *and* companies

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[Editors note: While this article is about fathers in heterosexual relationships, we extrapolate that the positive impacts described are consistent among same-sex and gender non-conforming relationships. This is based on research that has shown that children have similar outcomes no matter the gender of the parents raising them. Unfortunately, at this time there is a lack of research on non-traditional family structures—but things are changing, and we support the continuation of efforts that support all families.

We also acknowledge that single parents work exceptionally hard to ensure that their children have the best outcomes and that the absence of a father or partner does not automatically preclude children from healthy and happy lives. We stand behind all families.]

First-time dad Michael Pylyp describes new fatherhood as a "completely transcendent experience." When his daughter, Adrianna, was born 15 months ago it was the realization of a dream that was a long time coming. Holding her as she slept on his chest, Pylyp was grateful for something that too few American parents have: Parental leave. He got eight weeks of it.

It's something that was on his mind long before Adrianna was on his chest, and he's not alone. According to a recent survey by Indeed, 51% of future dads consider a company's paternity leave policy when considering job offers, and Pylyp was certainly thinking about that when he accepted his position as an Associate Brand Manager at Degree.

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"Just having the ability to take time and knowing that it was something that was available to us was very comforting and reassuring," says Pylyp, who, like most dads today, wanted to be as much of a hands on father as possible. He didn't want the entire burden of childcare to fall on his wife's shoulders while she was recovering from giving birth.

Pylyp is hardly alone in this. As Motherly recently reported, a new report from Dove Men+Care and Promundo found that 85% of dads would do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months after their child's birth or adoption, but there is so much stopping them and inadequate paid leave policies and attitudes are a huge factor.

Dads want to take leave, but it needs to be paid, unstigmatized, and can't come at the expense of their partner's leave. These are all things we need to be thinking about as America presses on in the fight for paid leave. Several states have moved forward with various paid family leave laws, but as a nation, the United States of America remains the only member country of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) without a national paid leave policy.

America's moms and babies need paid leave like yesterday, and American's fathers need it today if they're going to be the kind of men we need tomorrow. American employers will also benefit from paid leave because it is going to help them attract and keep women and men.

Here are five important ways leave for dads and partners makes moms, babies + companies stronger:

1. Paid leave for fathers improves moms' postpartum health

If we want to help moms stay healthy in the postpartum period we have to give them help. Having a partner at home to share in caring for the baby—and also care for mama—is proven to improve moms' mental and physical health.

A new study out of Stanford looked at what happened in Sweden in 2012 when laws changed so that both of a baby's parents could take their paid leave at the same time, and allowed dads to take up to 30 days of paid leave on an intermittent basis within a year after their child was born.

When researchers crunched the data they learned that moms are 14% less likely to be admitted to a hospital for birth-related issues within the first six months of childbirth.

This is huge.

Fewer cases of mastitis, fewer moms needing to see specialists, fewer moms on antibiotics and fewer moms suffering mental health issues. The researchers found that when dads took leave there was a 26% drop in anti-anxiety prescriptions during the first six months of motherhood.

"Our study underscores that the father's presence in the household shortly after childbirth can have important consequences for the new mother's physical and mental health," says study co-author Petra Persson, an assistant professor of economics.

According to Persson, most dads didn't even take the whole 30 days, but having the flexibility to take some time off when they were most needed at home made a world of difference for these families.

"The key here is that families are granted the flexibility to decide, on a day-to-day basis, exactly when to have the dad stay home," says Persson. "If, for example, the mom gets early symptoms of mastitis while breastfeeding, the dad can take one or two days off from work so that the mom can rest, which may avoid complications from the infection or the need for antibiotics."

Maternal mortality is a growing concern in the United States and 1 in 100 American moms are being readmitted to the hospital in the first 100 days after birth. We need support and our partners desperately want to provide it. Letting them could save lives.

2. There are so many benefits for babies when dads get paid leave 

The benefits of paternity leave for babies are substantial. Bonding with parents is crucial for a baby's brain development, and moms do need to sleep sometimes. When dads feel more engaged in fatherhood, infant mortality rates go down.

Fathers aren't babysitters, they're parents and their babies need them.

It is important for mothers to have support from a partner, friends or family in those early days and weeks of motherhood, but it's also important that dads aren't just seen as a stand-in for moms.

Studies suggest that skin-to-skin contact with dads can benefit babies immensely, and 8-week-old infants can tell the difference between mom and dad. As they grow, those babies are able to form strong attachments with two capable caregivers, and research has proven that when dads do things like change diapers, bathe and feed their babies, the infants are more socially responsive than infants who only get that kind of physical care from mom.

Simply put: Dads matter to babies' development and we have to stop acting like they don't. When dads have the chance to bond with their babies the babies learn to trust dad and the dads learn to trust themselves as caregivers.

3. Fathers who take paid leave are more likely to be involved in childcare years later

When dads take paternity leave there is a long-lasting impact on the division of unpaid labor among heterosexual couples.

Research shows that even short paternity leaves impact how much housework dads do years later. This link is super important for nations to take notice of, because right now no nation is on target to meet gender equality goals adopted by 193 United Nations member countries back in 2015.

Twenty-seven countries are outpacing America in efforts to meet that goal, but research suggests that if men just did 50 more minutes of care work a day, and women did 50 minutes less, we could get closer to gender equality because the burden of unpaid work would be more fairly distributed.

But right now, most men aren't doing those 50 minutes. Motherly's 2019 State of Motherhood survey found than 60% of mothers say they handle most of the household chores and responsibilities themselves, with just 32% saying responsibilities are shared equally and just 5% say their partner does the household lift.

We know that millennial men want to be equal partners at home, but when they don't get to take parental leave, they don't gain confidence in care work and they don't see all the effort it takes. Studies show that when dads get paternity leave they're more aware of how hard it is to be a family manager, and they're more willing to help.

4. When fathers take paid leave moms get paid more

Paternity leave doesn't just help equalize unpaid work, it helps close the wage gap at our paid jobs, too. Data from the World Economic Forum suggests that countries with the best paternity leave policies are also the closest to achieving pay parity for women.

There's a lot of factors behind this. For one, when men also take parental leave, parental leave becomes less stigmatized and women are not seen as less committed than men. That's how it impacts us at work, but what happens at home closes the gap, too. A Swedish study found that for every month of paternity leave a mother's partner takes, her future income rises by 7%. Why? Because of the lasting impact paternity leave makes on the distribution of unpaid care work at home. When dads are free to learn how to care for children, mothers become free to earn more, and that's good for the whole family.

5. Paid leave for all parents will change work culture 

It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to distribute work in a way that makes sense. Parental leave continues to be stigmatized in part because our society has very rigid ideas about how work should be structured, and it hurts parents (and non-parents, too).

Supporting and encourage parents of all genders to take parental leave won't just have a lasting impact on family dynamics but on workplace dynamics. The more men take parental leave, the more destigmatized leave and flexibility will become in the workplace and the more workplaces will respect responsibilities outside the office.

This will give employees more balanced lives, and allow employers to keep their employees.

It's true that moms are more likely than dads to make changes to their careers following the birth of a baby, but dads leave their jobs after babies, too. A new survey from Indeed finds 88% of dads say the way they view their career changes after the become a dad, and research suggests that new dad attrition is a bigger problem than employers realize. Even in male-dominated fields like STEM, nearly a quarter of new dads switch careers or cut their hours in an effort to find a more flexible, family-friendly way to work.

As paternity leave advocate Josh Levs, author of "All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses--And How We Can Fix It Together" tells Motherly, it is not surprising that fathers start looking for the exit in companies where family leave and flexibility aren't valued.

"All the stats and studies show that men want more time at home. It's true in America and it's true all over the world, but they can't get it. They are punished. It starts with paternity leave and continues all the way through the kid's life. If they need to take the kids to the doctor, or if they seek a flexible schedule, they are punished in the workplace," Levs explains.

But when everyone starts parental and family leave, companies and societies have to adjust, and the way we structure work changes. We know research shows that when companies encourage and support working parents to spend time with their families retention rates are higher, and we know that the current, "always-on" work culture that is prevalent in America is leading to employee burnout.

As Ellen Bravo, the co-director of Family Values @ Work tells Motherly, support for parental leave for all parents is going to help moms and dads not just when their babies are babies, but as they grow, too. Because when companies are forced to structure work in a way that allows for parental leave, it allows parents to leave work for big milestones, too.

She recalls how she was speaking with a group of OB-GYNs about flexibility at work when one of the doctors told her they had missed their own daughter's high school graduation because they were delivering a baby, and that doctor supposed that had it been Bravo's baby she would have wanted them to make the same call.

"I said 'I certainly want you to be able to be at your daughter graduation and I want a doctor when I deliver who knows me and cares about me, but we can do it differently,'" she recalls. "We can have a team of 2 or 3 doctors and they all know me and whoever's daughter isn't graduating from high school when I go into labor will show up."

According to Bravo, a collaborative approach to work will allow for family leave in infancy and family time for a lifetime.

"There are lots of companies that have figured this out and they have a more collaborative approach, It doesn't mean the client or the customer isn't cared about, it just means there isn't one person who is the repository of all the information about that customer," she explains.

Her philosophy is similar to Levs' who says "the truth is everyone has a whole life outside of work and we need our businesses to be aware of that."

He wants businesses to start measuring employees based on how much work they get done, not how many minutes they are sitting at a desk.

Bottom line: Fathers need flexibility and parental leave to be the fathers they want to be. It's time to make this change because it is good for dads, moms, babies and America.

When Michael Pylyp took paternity leave from his job at Degree, he took eight weeks in multiple two-week chunks over the course of a year because that was what worked best for his family. He inadvertently copied the Swedish flexibility model, and his family was healthier and less stressed because of it.

Pylyp tells Motherly he is grateful he got those eight weeks, because he had "the time, and frankly, the energy," to really bond with his daughter and support his partner. He learned how "emotionally and physically exhausting" stay-at-home parenting truly is. He has a better understanding of the challenges his partner faces and a close relationship with his baby girl. Every father in America should get that chance.

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There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.

The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.

I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.

Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:

1. Getting on the school bus.

Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.

2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!

3. Posing with their backpack.

Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.

4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.

Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.

5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.

Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.

6. With their graduating class shirt.

When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!

Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.

7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.

8. In their classroom.

From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.

9. With their teacher.

If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.

10. With you!

We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.

This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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[Editor's Note: We support parents in making the best infant feeding choices for their family, whether that be formula feeding, breastfeeding, pumping, donor milk or any combination of feeding methods.]

Feeding babies takes a lot of effort, no matter what a baby is eating. Parents need support whether their baby is drinking breastmilk, formula or both, but we know mothers often don't feel supported in either choice. Mothers who choose or have to use formula often feel stigmatized, while mothers who breastfeed often get shunned for public breastfeeding or find themselves needing to pump in a workplace that offers no lactation room.

Individual mothers pay when society doesn't support parents in breastfeeding their babies. Formula can be expensive, but when workplaces discriminate against nursing moms, it's an expense some women have no choice but to take on. But that's not the cost we're discussing here.

A new website created by breastfeeding researchers Phan Hong Linh, Roger Mathisen and Dylan Walters suggests that, on a global scale, failing to support breastfeeding is costing an estimated $341 billion a year.

The Cost of Not Breastfeeding tool was developed by Alive & Thrive, an initiative to save lives and prevent illness worldwide through "through optimal maternal nutrition, breastfeeding, and complementary feeding practices." To be clear, the site isn't targeted at individual parents who are unable or choose not to breastfeed their babies. Rather, it's a tool that illustrates the global economic losses that might be attributed to the low percentage of breastfed babies.

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The researchers behind the tool hope policymakers will look at it and decide to commit more resources to support parents.

Using the tool, you can use a dropdown menu to see how these costs break down for 34 different countries. In the U.S., where only 24% of children are exclusively breastfed, the tool estimates that it costs more than $28,000,000 in healthcare just to treat diarrhea and respiratory infections in children that could be prevented if more mothers were supported in breastfeeding.

Though many of the developing countries in the tool have higher percentages of breastfeeding than the United States, the costs of not breastfeeding the remaining children are higher. This is presumably because the risk of the associated diseases is already higher in those countries (due to factors like poverty, water quality, etc.).

Alive & Thrive gathered data on mortality (of children and mothers); cases of diarrhea, pneumonia, and obesity in children that could be attributed to not breastfeeding; cases of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and type II diabetes in mothers; the cost of medical care for those conditions; the cost of formula; and then the future cost to the economy of the loss of children's lives and having unhealthy children and mothers.

Many of these numbers are estimates based on estimates, but it's hard to argue against the bigger-picture argument of the tool's developer, health economist Dylan Walters.

"We need to be sensitive to the constraints and hardships faced by mothers and families in a world that lacks basic support systems for their physical, psycho-social, and economic well-being," Walters said in a post on Alive & Thrive's website. "Even more, mothers and families are up against a constant barrage of corporate marketing of alternatives and misinformation spread that undermines what should be boringly second nature and not stigmatized by society."

The organization recommends a minimum of 18 weeks of paid family leave and more support of nursing mothers on work sites. It also states that governments should enforce laws limiting the advertisement of infant formula.

Such laws may make sense in countries where access to clean water makes formula feeding difficult, but in wealthy nations like the United States, where formula feeding is a safe and legitimate choice, some worry limiting information about formula stigmatizes and patronizes mothers who are capable of choosing what is best for their babies.

The World Health Organization recommends that babies exclusively breastfeed for their first six months, and then receive a combination of breast milk and other nutrition until they are 2 years old. UNICEF estimates that globally as of 2016, 43% of children are exclusively breastfed during the first 6 months of life, and 46% continue until age 2. A recent survey found 1 in 4 Americans do not believe moms should be allowed to breastfeed or pump in the clear view of the public, and while 90% of Americans say they believe women should be allowed to pump at work, about 1 in 3 do not believe employers should be required to provide a lactation room.

The discrepancy here between what is recommended and what is actually supported is shocking. Mothers are being told to breastfeed, but then are also being told to cover up, or that they can't pump at work. When there are so many obstacles to breastfeeding it shouldn't be shocking that breastfeeding rates in America are lower than the WHO would like.

This lack of support and mixed messages are making the work of motherhood—something that is already deeply emotionally and mentally draining—even harder. The conversation about infant feeding should not be about supporting one type of infant feeding over another, it needs to be about supporting women in motherhood and in their choices. The cost of not doing so is staggering.

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Every parent out there knows that caring for a sick child isn't just heartbreaking, it's absolutely exhausting. Jaiden Cowley knows this all too well: The single mama's daughter, Amira, was born with a heart defect and has been waiting more than a year for a heart transplant.

Last week, when Amira ended up in the emergency room late at night for her ongoing heart issues, Jaiden reached out for a helping hand. She desperately needed a coffee to get her through the night, but she also couldn't leave her sweet baby to get one for herself.

So the single mother who moved to Toronto to be closer to its Hospital for Sick Children reached out to her virtual Mom Squad, a Facebook group that allows moms to connect. But she didn't expect the outpouring of generosity she received.

As first reported by TODAY, Jaiden posted the following message to the group, writing: "Is anyone at sickkids right now? I have a huge favor to ask. I'm in the er and I can't leave my daughter alone, but I really need a coffee."

She hoped another mom would coincidentally be in the hospital—she didn't expect a perfect stranger to go out of her way, but that's exactly what happened. A woman named Elizabeth drove to the hospital and presented Jaiden with a coffee half an hour later.

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"To some it was just a simple cup of coffee, to me her bringing it to me meant I could stay awake and alert for my daughter. I was able to properly advocate for her," Jaiden tells Motherly.

Elizabeth wasn't the only amazing mama who came forward to help: Another reportedly sent Jaiden money so she could treat herself to coffee, and several others offered to help in any way possible.

"It meant so much to me," Jaiden tells TODAY. "Going through this as a single mom has been a lot. It's exhausting. But now I don't feel so alone."

She later told Motherly: "No act of kindness goes unnoticed. No matter how small you think it may be to that person it means the world."

We couldn't love this story more! It's such an important reminder that mamas can do amazing things when they help each other out in times of need. We all need a little support sometimes, and if this story is any indication, there are still incredibly kind people out there who are willing to offer it.

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[Editor's note: This article describes one parent's experience with bed-sharing. To learn more about the American Academy of Pediatrics safe sleep recommendations please visit the AAP.]

Raise your hand if you've ever found yourself asleep with your child next to you in bed. (🙋🏽♀️)While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room-sharing, they discourage bed-sharing, particularly in the first four months of a baby's life, due to safety concerns.

But the reality is that many parents fall asleep with their babies next to them in bed. Whether it's because your baby won't sleep without those cuddles, because you've drifted off while nursing, because you didn't have the heart to put a sick baby in their crib, or because your doctor has given you the okay to snooze alongside your babe, bed-sharing is very much a thing.

And Tia Mowry is getting real about her experience with it.

When asked about her most "non-traditional" parenting move, Tia shared that she's a big-time bed-sharer. "My 1-year-old [daughter, Cairo] is still in my bed," the actress said during an interview with PEOPLE. "Ever since she was born she was always in our bed." But this isn't her first experience with co-sleeping: Tia also shared that she slept with her son until he was 4 years old.

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Tia is hardly alone when it comes to sleeping with her kids. A 2016 study found that only about 44% of survey responders never slept with their babies in bed with them—and that those who slept with their babies were more likely to keep breastfeeding for the recommended six months. Fellow celeb Kourtney Kardashian is a co-sleeper, and many mamas find that while they didn't plan to co-sleep, it is what works for them. That's why there are even special co-sleeping beds big enough for parents and kids.

But as popular as co-sleeping is, it can still be seen as controversial. Even Tia's own mom isn't on board with the Sister Sister star's decision to bed-share with her kids. "[My mom is] like, 'You need to do the cry-out method. Put your baby in the crib. And I'm like, 'No!' I don't want my baby to have any sign of stress whatsoever," Tia explains.

Whichever side of the line you fall on, one thing is clear: Sometimes parents need to do things they never expected to do in the name of more sleep. When it comes to parenting, there's only one absolute: You have to do what keeps your family safe, healthy and happy. And while we'd urge all mamas to familiarize themselves with child safety guidelines, ultimately we all have to make the choices that are best for our families.

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Many new parents receive the confusing news that their newborn baby has a tongue-tie. It means the skin attaching their tongues to the bottom of their mouths is longer than normal. And while this condition can cause complications from infancy on, a new study shows that not all newborns need to get surgery to correct it.

The condition is known as ankyloglossia, which occurs in 4-10% of people, usually looks like nothing but an extra strip of skin under the tongue. But because that skin (called the lingual frenulum) acts like a taut rubber band restricting movement, babies with a tongue-tie often have difficulty forming a good latch to nurse. This can mean they don't get enough milk, so they have to nurse for longer. Meanwhile, they're causing their mother a whole lot of pain because their latch is shallower and mostly clamping down on the tip of the nipple.

I speak from experience here: When my son had a tongue-tie, it felt like I was feeding an angry piranha. He was definitely not getting enough to eat, and my milk supply was steadily decreasing.

But this new study published in JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery suggests that not all babies diagnosed with ankyloglossia need to undergo a frenotomy—a simple procedure in which a doctor snips the skin with a pair of surgical scissors.

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Infants don't usually need anesthesia, because this tissue doesn't have many nerve endings or blood vessels. Their mother is asked to breastfeed them immediately after the snip, to get the tongue moving properly and reduce the chance of the skin growing back. According to the Mayo Clinic, complications from frenotomies include bleeding, infection and damage to the tongue or salivary glands, but they are rare.

What's not rare is the number of patients getting frenotomies: Referrals for the procedure in the U.S. went up tenfold, from 1,200 in 1997 to 12,400 in 2012.

"We have seen the number of tongue-tie and upper lip tether release surgeries increase dramatically nationwide without any real strong evidence that shows they are effective for breastfeeding," study co-author Christopher J. Hartnick, MD MS, of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, said in a press release.

The researchers looked at 115 infants (between 19-56 days old) who were referred for a frenotomy. Instead of sending them straight into surgery, the babies and their parents met with a pediatric speech-language pathologist for a feeding evaluation. These specialists observed the babies breastfeeding and gave parents feedback and tips to overcome any challenges they were experiencing. After this, 72 (62.6%) patients did not have the frenotomy after all, while 10 (8.7%) had a labial frenotomy (releasing extra tissue from the lips) and 32 (27.8%) had both a labial and lingual frenotomy.

"We don't have a crystal ball that can tell us which infants might benefit most from the surgeries, but this preliminary study provides concrete evidence that this pathway of a multidisciplinary feeding evaluation is helping prevent babies from getting this procedure," Hartnick said.

For now, parents' best bet is to consult more than one specialist to identify the best plan of action. In addition to lactation consultants, children with tongue-ties might need to see speech pathologists later. In some cases, the frenulum loosens over time. In others, they might wind up needing the procedure after all.

Anecdotally, I'll add that I visited with lactation consultants and my son's pediatrician more than once before deciding he should have a frenotomy. It was no fun for me (who wants a strange man sticking scissors in their baby's mouth?), but my kid was fine. It didn't solve all our problems, but feeding was much less painful immediately afterward.

The bottom line here seems to be that not everyone needs to rush into a procedure just because it's easy. Our kiddos deserve more than a one-size-fits-all approach to their health.

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