Breastfeeding baby with cleft lip and palate

If your baby has been born with a cleft lip or palate, this is completely correctable by surgery, and you are likely to have the support of an excellent cleft palate team. 

It might surprise you to learn that if your baby has a cleft lip only, then breastfeeding is entirely possible even before surgery.

It will involve using your fingertip to pull in a bit of breast tissue, to plug the gap in your baby’s lip, bringing him in close to the breast, and breastfeeding should be able to proceed as usual.

If your baby has a cleft palate, which means that he has a hole in the roof of his mouth, this will make it very difficult to create a seal in the mouth cavity, or even create suction.

It is crucial to know that your breast milk is still the most important substance for your baby, whether he has a cleft lip or palate.

Cleft lip spelled out and a stethoscope

It is least irritating to the mucous membranes too. 

If he has a cleft palate, you can be supported to express your milk with a hospital grade double pump, before surgery, and afterward, too, if needed.

You will need to pump your milk every two to three hours, and once at night, to build up and maintain your supply until the surgery is performed.

In this way, he will still be able to receive your milk by alternative feeding methods

Sometimes a member of the cleft palate team may be able to assist you in using an obturator.

An obturator is a particular soft device that can fit inside your baby’s mouth to cover the hole in the palate and enable him to breastfeed to a degree, perhaps alongside supplemental feeds too.

Other feeding devices that can be useful, e.g., the special needs feeder, which doesn’t require suction – so this can be very advantageous for your baby. 

An at breast supplementer can also be useful to allow your baby to keep trying at the breast.

Even where there is a complete lack of suction, the flow can be adjusted accordingly. With this type of device, you can use either your expressed breast milk or formula as the supplement. 

Finally, I encourage you to seek out support from an IBCLC or another breastfeeding specialist who understands these issues.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022


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