Diagnosing and understanding the maxillary lip-tie (superior labial, the maxillary labial frenum) as it relates to breastfeeding

J Hum Lact. 2013 Nov;29(4):458-64. doi: 10.1177/0890334413491325. Epub 2013 Jul 2.


Successful breastfeeding is dependent upon an infant's ability to correctly latch onto a mother's breast. If an infant is born with oral soft tissue abnormalities such as tongue-tie or lip-tie, breastfeeding may become challenging or impossible. During the oral evaluation of an infant presenting with breastfeeding problems, one area that is often overlooked and undiagnosed and, thus, untreated is the attachment of the upper lip to the maxillary gingival tissue. Historically, this tissue has been described as the superior labial frenum, median labial frenum, or maxillary labial frenum. These terms all refer to a segment of the mucous membrane in the midline of the upper lip containing loose connective tissue that inserts into the maxillary arch's loose, unattached gingival or tight, attached gingival tissue. There is no muscle contained within this tissue. In severe instances, this tissue may extend into the area behind the upper central incisors and incisive papilla. The author has defined and identified the restrictions of mobility of this tissue as a lip-tie, which reflects the clinical attachment of the upper lip to the maxillary arch. This article discusses the diagnosis and classifications of the lip-tie, as it affects an infant's latch onto the mother's breast. As more and more women choose to breastfeed, lip-ties must be considered as an impediment to breastfeeding, recognizing that they can affect a successful, painless latch and milk transfer.

Keywords: breastfeeding; breastfeeding difficulties; lasers; mastitis; maxillary frenum; median labial frenum; plugged ducts; superior labial frenum.

MeSH terms

  • Ankyloglossia
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Humans
  • Labial Frenum
  • Mouth Abnormalities / diagnosis*
  • Mouth Abnormalities / surgery*