Children with cleft palate face many health complications over the course of their lives. If you are the parent of a child who was born with a cleft palate, it is important to become familiar with the spectrum of complications, especially those that will affect your child’s nutrition. For many cleft babies, the complications with feeding will continue for long periods of time, even making the process of spoon feeding infant pureed foods almost impossible.
Cleft palate is a congenital birth defect that is believed to arise out of a malformation of the fusing of the facial bones and structures during gestation. As a result, when your baby is born, there will be immediate complications with feeding with many infants finding great difficulty in breastfeeding or even accepting a bottle. Once your baby learns how to develop a sucking motion, and is able to feed from the breast or the bottle, this will play a vital role in supplying nutrients.
As your baby reaches six to eight months of age, the transition into baby food may begin to occur with many babies starting on rice cereal around this time. For the baby with a cleft palate, however, the transition to baby food may take a little longer and pediatricians will often recommend that your baby continue to be fed by way of bottle or breast primarily, with only a slow transition to spoon feeding.
The primary concern when transitioning a cleft baby to baby food lies in the issue over malnutrition. Because your baby may not be able to eat normally, there are times when feeding will take longer than normal and you, and your baby, may become easily discouraged. When this happens, sudden ends to feeding are quite common and, ultimately, this can have an adverse effect on your baby’s health. Therefore, until your baby reaches age one, your pediatrician will most likely recommend giving your baby formula as a primary source of nutrition with only small amounts of rice cereal incorporated into the bottle as a form of filling and not, necessarily, to introduce your baby to spoon feeding so quickly.
Cleft palate infants face many challenges with feeding and even speech development. Understanding that your baby may take longer to adjust will be important to not only your health, but also to your infant’s health. The key to your child’s optimal outcome lies in patience and following your pediatrician’s recommendations closely.
Sources: Comprehensive Cleft Care, by Joseph Losee, pp. 145-147.