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Houston Cranio Facial

Tips on Feeding a Child with a Cleft Lip and Palate

Babies with a cleft lip with or without a cleft palate often experience difficulty feeding both by breast and by bottle. This is due to the fact that the cleft(s) makes it particularly hard to create a vacuum in the mouth, which is needed to induce suction. Our craniofacial plastic surgeon, Dr. Eric Payne, has provided some tips to help make this process easier and more successful:

  • Children with a cleft lip alone can often breastfeed. Try altering the position used when breastfeeding so that the breast tissue helps close the gap in the lip to allow for the vacuum seal.
  • Some children with a cleft palate can breastfeed if the cleft is located far enough back in the mouth. Otherwise, it’s best to limit breastfeeding to about 10 minutes so as not to cause exhaustion. Supplement the remaining feeding with a bottle.
  • Use a specialized cleft palate bottle (Haberman nipple, Pigeon nipple, and Dr. Brown’s nipple are some of the most popular options). Your medical team should provide a demonstration of how to use these devices.
  • The best position for bottle feeding is often an upright, sitting position to limit milk or formula flowing into the nasal cavity.
  • Some milk coming through the nose is not a problem, nor does it suggest your baby is choking.
  • Infants with clefts often need to be burped more often since they take in more air.
  • Feedings should be completed in 30 minutes or less, more time suggests the baby is working too hard and is expending more calories than is recommended.
  • Babies with clefts can benefit from more frequent but shorter feeding sessions.
  • Some babies benefit from irrigating the nose with saline to remove any milk that causes congestion or sneezing. We suggest purchasing some nasal saline irrigation from your pharmacy for this purpose.
  • If you ever have any questions, a speech therapist or lactation consultant can provide personalized suggestions.

For more tips on how to feed a baby with cleft lip with or without a cleft palate, please contact our practice.