Cleft Lip/ Palate
A cleft lip is a birth defect identified by the gap that is found on the upper lip.. As for a cleft palate, the gap is found on the roof of the mouth, i.e. the palate. Both these conditions are due to the incomplete development of the lip and palate in the womb. They can occur together, as well as in isolation.
These birth defects are classified under a large group of head and facial deformities called craniofacial anomalies. They are also the most common among these anomalies. About 1 in every 600 children is born with a cleft lip and/or palate. The chance of developing a cleft increases dramatically to 1 in 20 if the child has a parent or a sibling with the condition.
Symptoms of cleft lip/ palate
The extent of the defect varies among infants. While some with a cleft lip only have a small notch on the upper lip, others may have a long split leading up to the nose. There may also be either a single split, referred to as unilateral clefting, or a double split, referred to as bilateral clefting. This is similar for those with cleft palates. The gap in the palate may cover its whole length as well.
Causes of cleft lip/ palate
While there is still uncertainty regarding the cause of cleft lips/ palates, genetics have been observed to play a role. This is because children with parents or siblings with a cleft are more likely to develop the condition as well.
Risks of cleft lip/ palate
Children with a cleft may experience poor growth and weight gain because of feeding problems. Depending on how bad the cleft is, they may have difficulty sucking. Milk may also end up flowing through the nasal passages, making feeding difficult. Difficulty in feeding, however, is more common among those with a cleft palate than those with just a cleft lip.
A cleft palate can also lead to a build up of fluid in the middle ear. If untreated, this can cause hearing loss. Other issues include dental and speech problems.
Dealing with cleft lip/ palate
A cleft lip and palate can be repaired surgically. While the repair for a cleft lip is done when the baby is between 3 to 6 months old, the repair for a cleft palate is done when they are between 9 to 12 months old. They will also need dental work when they get older.
Before the child goes through the repair, they will need help with feeding because they have difficulty sucking. A special bottle, filled with either breast milk or formula, can be used to feed them. Medela also has a special nursing system that allows the baby to feed from the breast. Frequent weight checks have to be done to ensure that the child is gaining weight and growing normally.
Medical homecare equipment explained:
- Medela / Haberman special needs feeder
This is a special bottle that is designed to make feeding easier for babies who have difficulty sucking, making breastfeeding or drinking from a regular bottle challenging. These feeders require very little sucking effort, and both the feeder and the child can control the milk flow. This way, the baby does not have to expend too much effort to feed and the flow of milk is not too fast for them to handle. This feeder can be used for babies with cleft lips/ palates. Smaller teats are also available for premature infants.
- Medela supplemental nursing system
This device allows babies that have difficulty sucking to nurse directly from the breast. It is made up of a container to hold either breast milk or formula, and a set of tubes that are to be attached to the top of the nipples. This way, when the baby nurses they will get nutrition from both the breasts and the supplement container. The device makes nursing possible for cleft lip/ palate babies.