Social media crowd sourcing can be a great way to get a quick and sympathetic response to a vexing problem. What’s this insect in my bedroom? Have you ever seen this vegetable? Why is my car making this noise? It’s not surprising that many parents are doing the same thing when they have questions about their babies.

When Dr. Jamie Smith, associate professor in Communication Sciences and Disorders, published a 2016 paper about support strategies for breastfeeding mothers, many participants touched on the pros and cons of social media problem-solving. One mother said: “For three months, it sounds like every baby has a dairy allergy, and then the next four months, every baby has a tongue tie. Way too many people think their kids have tongue tie and are running to the one dentist in town that does laser cutting.” This quote sparked a follow-up investigation: What happens when mothers use social media to help them figure out whether their babies are tongue-tied?

Tongue-ties occur when the band of tissue that connects a baby’s tongue to the floor of the mouth is too tight to allow for normal movement. Sucking effectively requires a surprisingly complex series of movements, and babies with restricted tongue movement may feed more slowly, swallow too much air, and struggle to gain weight appropriately because it’s much harder for them to take in enough food. If they’re breastfeeding, their atypical sucking patterns can cause intense pain for their mothers. When a baby’s feeding problems are caused by a tongue-tie, a quick outpatient surgical procedure to release the too-tight tissue can bring immediate relief. But an accurate diagnosis is tricky; sometimes the tissue looks restrictive but functions just fine, or vice versa.

“Tongue-tie diagnosis requires a trained professional,” Smith explained. “Parents are hearing the success stories on social media – ‘oh, your baby sounds just like my baby, and things were so much better for us after surgery!’ But with breastfeeding concerns, similar symptoms can have very different causes.”

“Mothers report that their experiences with social media questions about breastfeeding are very much a mixed bag,” Smith said. “For some people, social media offers a sanity-saving referral to a highly skilled local professional. For others, it’s a frustrating dead end. And unfortunately, it’s difficult to predict which outcome a given mother will have.”

Families with breastfeeding concerns can search for board-certified lactation consultants here.