Cleft lip or palate
Breastfeeding a baby with a cleft lip or palate - Transcript
It’s wonderful to know that 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 a really good 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 really will involve using your fingertip just 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 normal.
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 to create suction. It is however reassuring to know that after surgery there is no reason why your baby won’t be able to successfully breastfeed.
It is really important to know that your breast milk is still the most important substance for your baby, whether he has a cleft lip or palate. It is least irritating to the mucous membranes too. You can pump your milk with a hospital grade double pump, just before surgery, if he has a cleft palate, and maybe just in the first day or two afterwards.
You will need to pump your milk every two to three hours, and once at night, to keep up that supply, build up that supply, until that surgery is performed. In this way he can also get your milk by alternative feeding methods. Have a look at the video relating to that.
Sometimes a member of the cleft palate team may be able to assist you to use what they call an obturator, which is a special soft device that can fit inside your baby’s mouth to cover that hole in the palate, and enable him to breastfeed to a degree, perhaps alongside supplemental feeds too.
There are other feeding devices that can be useful like the special needs feeder, which doesn’t require suction – so this can be very advantageous for your baby. Another device called a supplemental nursing system, can also be useful to allow your baby to keep trying at the breast. Even where there is a complete lack of suction, that 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 would encourage you to seek out support from an IBCLC or other breastfeeding specialist who understands these issues.
Review dates, references & further resources
V1 published June 2017. Next review date: April 2020
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