Cleft lip and Cleft palate are among the most common birth defects. While the fetus is developing in Mom’s womb, the lip and palate fuse together. If they do not fuse together, it results in this deformity which can be minor or severe and may even affect the entire palate and/or nose.
Of all babies who are born with this defect, a third have only a cleft
lip, another third have only cleft palates and the remaining third have
cleft palate with cleft lip.
Babies with cleft palates have a higher risk of developing ear and respiratory infections.
What is Cleft Lip?
A cleft lip is an opening between the two sides of the upper lip as shown.
What is a Cleft Palate?
A cleft palate is an opening between the two sides of the palate as shown.
This picture is of a cleft lip and cleft palate combination.
Cleft Lip and Palate Treatment
Repair of cleft-lip
Can be done 48 hours after baby is born.
Repair of cleft palate
palate surgery is usually done within the first or second year of
baby’s life. This allows a period of time in which baby’s mouth can
mature, but cleft palate plastic surgery should be done before baby
The impact on breastfeeding
the lip and palate help create suction that is necessary to pull the
milk from the breast. If the lip and palate are not formed properly, the
suction is insufficient and in some cases it can be nearly impossible
A cleft palate can cause milk to flow into the nasal passages, which may cause choking while baby is feeding.
with only a cleft lip may have a better chance at breastfeeding, as Mom
can sometimes close the hole to make a seal with her hands while
Unfortunately some babies may need to drink via alternative methods until their cleft has been fixed.
Cleft Lip Symptoms
Common breastfeeding problems encountered
• Babies with cleft lip/palate usually take much longer to feed.
Babies with cleft lip/palate problems usually need supplementation and
this is preferably Mom’s milk or donor milk if possible.
Why is Breast Milk Important?
Breast milk provides support for the immune system which will reduce
the incidences of ear infection (babies with clefts are more prone to
ear and respiratory infections)
• Breast milk will help prevent
hearing, speech and language problems that are linked with ear
infections. (cleft palate speech therapy is often needed )
• Upright breastfeeding positions can help keep the milk form running into baby’s nose.
• Mom may need to support baby’s jaw and chin while latching and keeping a position at the breast.
Using a Palatal Obturator: This is an appliance that fits into baby’s
mouth to give shape to the palate. The Obturator can help baby suck
stronger and provides firm pressure on the breast. Mom should request
that the Obturator be made of a smooth surface, as not to hurt her while
Breast Feeding Cleft Palate / Lip Babies – Other Tips
Tracy Behr, CBC. CLD (CBI) Reference:
Breastfeeding counselor course through Child Birth International on
the physiology of breastfeeding, health of baby, baby with cleft lip /
palate problems and breastfeeding.