Is it difficult for children to eat and drink with a cleft palate?

Yes, it can become difficult for children to feed properly with a cleft palate, but with specialized bottles and feeding techniques, this problem can be managed.

Infants born with a cleft palate will have an opening in the roof of their mouth, which separates the nasal cavity and the oral cavity. This causes difficulty in creating suction that is required to pull out milk from the feeding bottle or to latch on to the breast. This leads to poor weight gain in these infants as they end up using enormous energy to feed. A cleft palate is usually repaired at the age of around one year, and therefore, feeding difficulties caused by the cleft should not last longer than this.

Problems related to cleft lip and palate

The cleft palate often occurs as a part of a larger syndrome and most of these syndromes also include learning disabilities. Children with a cleft palate may have a slightly increased risk of having learning disabilities, especially difficulty in learning how to read.

Depending upon the type and severity of the cleft, children with orofacial clefts may face different challenges in life, which include:

  • Feeding difficulty: This is one of the greatest concerns after birth and infants with a cleft palate may have difficulty in sucking milk.
  • Infections of the ear and hearing loss
  • Speech difficulties: Cleft palate interferes with the development of normal speech and may have a nasal twang.
  • Dental problems: If the cleft palate extends over the upper gum, the development of the tooth gets affected.
  • Other challenges of coping with a medical condition: Children with orofacial clefts may also face social, emotional, and behavioral problems because of difference in appearance and stress of extensive medical care.

Feeding an infant with a cleft lip or cleft palate

Although it is difficult for children to eat and drink with a cleft palate, it can be managed, provided the parents are given appropriate training and provided suitable bottles and nipples are used.

Guidelines that need to be followed while feeding infants with cleft palate:

  • Use specialized cleft palate bottle
  • Hold your baby in an upright, sitting position while feeding to prevent the milk from flowing back into the nasal cavity.
  • Hold the bottle tilted so that the nipple is always filled with milk and pointed down away from the cleft.
  • If you see some milk escaping through the nose, it is quite normal and it does not mean your baby is choking. Just hold your baby in a more upright position as this will reduce the amount of milk coming through the nose.
  • A baby with a cleft needs to be burped more often as more air gets in while feeding. Always watch for signs of discomfort while feeding as you will need to stop and burp your baby at that time.

These problems are usually short-term since a cleft lip is usually repaired at four to six months of age, and a cleft palate is usually repaired around 12 months of age, so feeding problems caused by the cleft should not last longer than this.

Disclaimer: We do not assume responsibility for the use of the provided information or its interpretation. Our efforts are towards providing current and reliable information; however these should not be considered, or used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment.