Across the world, cleft palate, cleft lip or both is a condition that affects one in every 700 babies. Considered as one of the most common defects children suffer from at birth, the condition often requires special care from various health professionals due to the challenging medical, dental, surgical, and even social factors that are involved in the treatment process.
Understanding cleft lip and cleft palate
Cleft palate and cleft lip require surgery for treatment. In most cases, a child with a cleft palate will have a cleft lip too. A cleft lip occurs when the tissues of the nose and the upper jaw fail to join together during fetal development. As a result, a split in the lip occurs. Generally, cleft lips do not cause health issues.
On the other hand, cleft palate happened when the palate or the roof of the mouth fails to develop properly during pregnancy. As a result, an opening is left that could go through as far as the nasal cavity. The problem could affect the hard palate or even the uvula— that small tissue tag hanging from the soft palate. Unfortunately, it is common for babies with a cleft palate to have issue feeding.
Surgery is needed to treat both a cleft lip and a cleft palate. Most cleft lips are repaired within a child’s first five months— although timing usually depends on how bad the condition is. Cleft palates are often treated when a child is between 6-18 months old and will usually require additional surgeries to fully fix the problem.
Caring tips for kids with cleft lip or palate
Cleft lips often do not lead to feeding issues. Babies with the condition should be able to breastfeed. If bottle-feeding, using special nipples that are shaped differently to accommodate the cleft lip as well as those with bigger hole openings is recommended.
When a baby is born with a cleft palate, sucking and swallowing can be difficult which ultimately makes feeding a problem. Make sure that your baby is getting the right amount of formula or breast milk and be on the lookout for possible signs of dehydration such as dry mouth and sunken eyes with little to no tears.
In most cases, bottle-feeding is the better option for babies with cleft palates so pumping breast milk and then giving it via a feeding bottle may be more ideal. Be on alert for possible problems such as gagging or choking. An obturator— a plastic plate that can be fitted into the roof of the mouth while the baby is feeding— can be used to block the cleft to allow proper suckling.
Post-operative cleft repair care tips
After the cleft repair surgery, it is important to follow proper post-operative care, especially in the first three weeks. During this time, the repair may not be strong enough to resist possible damage caused by fingers and other foreign objects in the mouth. Important guidelines should be followed to promote healing, prevent injury, and maintain overall comfort after the cleft repair surgery was done.
When feeding and using a spoon, be careful not to let it touch the roof of the mouth. Chewing on anything should be totally avoided and pacifiers and bottles and hot food or fluids are a big no-no. Make sure that your child drinks water after feeding too to keep the surgical area clean.
After the surgery has been performed, you will be given instructions by your speech pathologist or doctor about appropriate feeding plans. It is important to adhere to this plan as it will be specifically designed with your child’s nutritional needs in mind.
There is always the risk of your child putting his finger or any object in his mouth and this could damage the repair. Splints or arm restraints are often recommended especially in the first 10 days after the surgery. Mild pain may also be experienced for the next few days and your doctor will usually prescribe liquid acetaminophen.
When it comes to dealing with and treating cleft lip or palate, follow up care is very important. Pay close attention to your appointment schedules and always get in touch with your doctor if your child seems to be in pain or is having problems. Choosing the right professionals to assist you with the whole treatment process is critical too. Wide Smiles makes it easier for you to access proper cleft palate and lip repair from effectively trained and highly experienced professionals so, you know your child is in good hands.