Healing the World One Vagal Nerve at a Time

 Let’s talk about what it means for babies to have the opportunity to develop their vagal nerve tone. And what does that have to do with what I am about to talk about.. Upper Lip Tie. 

There is a little piece of skin called the frenulum. It is a small fold of tissue designed to secure organs or other small parts of our body in place. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frenulum. There is a frenulum that holds the upper lip to the inside of the mouth. There is also one that holds the bottom lip and the tongue from wagging too much. Some babies are born with one or more of their frenulum tissues too close to the tip of the tongue or upper or lower lip too close to the edge of the lip.

For babies, this can cause a real problem with breast feeding, because they can have trouble fully closing their mouth, therefore not being able to create an efficient sucking motion. What happens when the lips don’t create such good suction? For one, the mom can end up with very chafed nipples, cracked, bleeding, and terrible pain, to say the least. The baby doesn’t get enough food, or ends up sucking in so much air that he/she ends up spitting most of it up.

What do the pediatricians call this constant spitting up? Reflux. Yep, I’m back there again to this same subject. Because, in the past several years, I have seen more babies who suffer that woes of reflux than those who do not. I spoke with pediatricians who said it is hugely common. And the protocol for treatment is Zantac, the acid reducer. Like, I have mentioned before with most humans, the problem of acid reflux is extremely rare that the body is producing too much acid. The myriad of reasons are more common than the actual diagnosis of over production of acid.

If so many babies are on acid reducers, then as with adults, how are they going to get their B-12 vitamins to help develop their nervous system? How are they going to digest their food properly with lowered levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach? And most importantly, when all these levels are lowered who is going to tend the vagal nerve toning development?

Before we get to that answer, I want to share with you that Parker, this sweet one in the picture came to me this morning having just had her frenulum snipped under her tongue and upper lip. Why, you ask? Because she had suffered much, as mom, from not being able to close her upper lip in breast feeding, leading her as many babies are, diagnosed with reflux and to give her Zantac as so many babies in this country are. Mom stated talking with other moms, and one thing lead to another and she found that there is a whole other world in dentistry where they see the actual diagnosis is the frenulum is too close, therefore limiting the lip from moving easily and freely, and for the tongue, to do the same. These dentists, do a very easy and quick release of the misappropriated frenulum. In and out, mommy and baby are back home and feeding better.

The result? After a couple of days, the baby is back to eating and sucking away at mommy, only now, to be able to close their mouth all the way around the nipple, sucking efficiently, filling up their tummies, sans air, and all to be happily digested all the way down the food tube! Happy baby, happy mommy!

Back to what I was saying earlier, my concerns about giving them an acid reducer the rest of til who knows when, how will they actually get the real digestion process to happen? We need these proper acid levels to break down food, feed the intestines with the friendly microbes, who in turn break down the food even more. And more so, drum roles please….. the friendly bacteria in the gut teaches the vagal nerve how to tone itself. And a healthy toned vagal nerve is what helps a baby to self-calm, make eye- contact, be happy, learn in his/her environment around him, and to learn to be the best person he can be in this ever changing world. If the gut bacteria is not there at appropriate levels as a baby, the vagal nerve cannot get this very important information and to do its very important job to tonify itself like the well-tuned string instrument it is.

If this is the case, can we end up with a world of children who grow up with low tone of their vagal nerve, who cannot make easy eye-contact, smile at others, show empathy and interact with their environment around them? Will these children have the issues from low vagal tone that will interfere in their ability to learn, smooch others, play, and be able to deal with the blows of their changing world around them? Did I even mention digestion and brain development?

Yes, to some people this might sound like a big leap, but, it is not. This very long wandering nerve innervates more organs and areas of importance than we can can even begin to imagine. Please take good care of it. Let’s take care of our children, and yes, let’s grow a better world for this very young generation so they can live long and prosper in the most healthy ways we can create for them. I want to live in a world where everyone can have a lovely toned vagal nerve, and there can be peace. But, that’s for another conversation.

                                                                What does "tongue tied" have to do with the vagal nerve?

Keeping healthy babies healthy



  1. to clarify: I never put Parker on zantac. Her pediatrician mentioned it as treatment option when I complained of reflux at the 2 month appt, but knowing how yucky it is, I chose to change my diet (removed dairy and lowered caffeine, plus I am already gluten free) and do small frequent feedings. The reflux did improve but obviously did not resolve completely. Zantac for me was a last ditch option, and luckily we never needed to go there. But that’s only because of my knowledge/experience from Dylan. What about all of the (first time) moms out there without that knowledge and support?!

  2. Also: the dentist used a laser, not scissors, to “clip” the ties. No blood or risk of infection and much faster recovery.

  3. Elinor: this was so fascinating. I do have a question for you: can you explain a little more about “the friendly bacteria in the gut teaches the vagal nerve how to tone itself”? I have read about gut bacteria communicating with the brain (ie, impacting mood and anxiety), the hypothesis is via the vagus nerve. Is this what you are referring to?
    Thank you.

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  5. Wondering if this is an easy thing to have clipped as an adult? Is it a dentist that would do it?

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