Caring for a child born with a cleft palate or another congenital deformity can be emotionally taxing and stressful for a family, but through surgery and the correct treatments, it is possible for him or her to grow into a perfectly healthy adult.
What is a cleft palate and what is a cleft lip?
These are the common terms used to refer to a cleft which can occur in either the lip and/or palate of a child. Cleft palate causes are a complex result of environmental and genetic factors during pregnancy. It can occur once in perhaps every 700 births, and it is an affliction which can affect both sexes and all ethnic groups.
The three major types:
- A cleft lip – which is either complete or incomplete and either unilateral or bilateral, which means it affects one side of the lip or both sides simultaneously. Surgery can be performed between three and six months after birth and involves stitching the skin of the lip together.
- A cleft palate – this is when the palate cleft affects parts of the soft palate and extends into the hard palate and the gum. The corrective surgical procedure can be performed between four and 12 months after birth and involves repairing the area in layers. First the soft palate muscles are reconstructed to aid better speech and swallowing functions, then the gap in the gum is closed. If needed, there may be follow up adjustment surgery after this procedure.
- A lip cleft and palate cleft – is a unilateral or bilateral cleft that runs from the base of the nose through the gums and palate. It is possible for this to occur while the nose and gum remain joined. Surgical procedures for this involve a combination of the above two.
Surgery is the only way to repair these malformations and is normally performed under general anaesthesia. Your surgeon will provide information on what to expect from the operation, how to treat your baby pre and post op, as well as give you advice on the best methods of feeding your baby while he or she is recovering from a cleft palate or lip surgery.