How Do Babies Feed After Cleft Surgery?

May 18th, 2024

A cleft lip or cleft palate can make it more difficult for babies to breastfeed or eat. While surgical correction can optimize the anatomy of the palate and make it much easier to feed, it can take time for the children to adapt to the changes. 

Feeding Your Child After Cleft Surgery

As a rule of thumb breast and bottle feeding are fine.  After that, spoon cups and syringes are recommended on a case by case basis.  Your doctor’s office will provide specific instructions for aftercare and recovery, and it is always best to defer to those guidelines. As a rule of thumb, breastfeeding and bottle-feeding are both permitted following cleft surgery, with doctors recommending other feeding methods such as spoons, cups, or syringes.

Some additional tips for feeding your child following cleft surgery include:

  • Ensure that your child is getting enough fluids. Monitor your child’s diapers, and be sure you see a wet diaper at least once every eight hours. If you fear your child is dehydrated, call your pediatrician’s office.
  • Try feeding your baby soft or pureed foods following surgery. Avoid any foods with large chunks or pieces, including any foods with pulps or skins.
  • Avoid any hard or crunchy foods, including crackers and cereal.
  • Even if your child is very independent, they will need supervision and assistance in eating. Do not leave your child to feed themself. 
  • If possible, delay firmer textured foods until post surgery (this is preferrable)
  • If your child is not used to drinking from a cup, invest in a couple of different open cups and sippy cups to see which one is easier for your child to use.

Restoring Your Child to Full Form and Function

Cleft surgery also allows you to address functional issues and ensure your child can eat and drink normally, gaining adequate nutrition in the long run. In the short term, assisting your child as they eat and drink will be an important aspect of recovery. Learn more about cleft palate and cleft lip surgery from Carolinas Center for Oral & Facial Surgery.