Is Cleft Palate a Major Surgery?

May 30th, 2024

According to data from the CDC, about one out of every 1,700 babies in the U.S. is born with a condition known as cleft palate. This condition involves malformation to the roof to the mouth. This part of the anatomy is typically formed between the sixth and ninth weeks of pregnancy, but in some situations, the tissues that form the roof of the mouth do not completely join together. The effects can include difficulty speaking, difficulty nursing/eating, and a greater risk for ear infections.

Surgical intervention can repair a cleft palate. Typically, doctors recommend this procedure when the child is between nine and 18 months old. Parents of little ones will understandably wonder what this surgery is like and just how major it is considered to be.

About Cleft Palate Repair

For most children, cleft palate surgery takes just a couple of hours. Parents can expect their child to remain in the hospital for one or two days following the procedure, simply to ensure that the palate is healing correctly.

As for the surgery itself, an anesthesiologist will be on hand to administer a sedative gas. Once the baby is fully asleep, stronger anesthesia is administered to ensure no discomfort while the surgery takes place.

While surgical techniques can vary, most surgeons will operate as follows:

  • They will begin by placing a brace in the child’s mouth to keep it open.
  • They will then make small incisions along either side of the palate.
  • Layers of tissue attached to the hard palate are loosened, stretched, and joined, and inner layers of tissue (including the nasal tissue) are closed with dissolvable stitching.
  • Once everything has been closed, the baby will be left with a Z-shaped incision.

Recovery from Cleft Palate Surgery

It is normal for children to experience some physical discomfort following surgery, but all patients are sent home with pain medications as well as antibiotics to prevent infection. Parents may also note the following symptoms, all of which are very normal:

  • Bloody mucus or saliva.
  • Nasal drainage and discharge.
  • Snoring or the sound of congested breathing.
  • Unusual appetite.
  • Unusual sleeping patterns.

Learn More About Cleft Palate Repair

Cleft palate repair is a normal and common surgery that can prevent children from having lifelong difficulties with speech or nutrition. Learn more about cleft palate surgery from Carolinas Center For Cleft Lip, Palate, and Craniofacial Surgery.