Planning For Surgery
At your initial consultation, your doctor will discuss the details of the procedure he or she will use, including where the surgery will be performed, the type of anesthesia to be used, possible risks and complications, recovery, costs, and the results you can expect. Your surgeon will also answer any questions you may have about feeding your baby, by breast or by bottle, both before and after the surgery.
In most cases, health insurance policies will cover most or all of the cost of cleft lip or cleft palate surgery. Check your policy to make sure your child is covered and to see if there are any limitations on what types of treatment are covered.
Recovering From Cleft Lip Surgery
Your child may be restless for awhile after surgery, but your doctor can prescribe medication to relieve any discomfort. Elbow restraints may be necessary for a few weeks to prevent your baby from rubbing the stitched area.
If dressings have been used, they’ll be removed within a day or two, and the stitches will either dissolve or be removed within five days. Your doctor will advise you on how to feed your child during the first few weeks after surgery.
It’s normal for the surgical scar to appear to get bigger and redder for a few weeks after surgery. This will gradually fade, although the scar will never totally disappear. In many children, however, it’s barely noticeable because of the shadows formed by the nose and upper lip.
Cleft Palate Surgery
In some children, a cleft palate may involve only a tiny portion at the back of the roof of the mouth; for others, it can mean a complete separation that extends from front to back. Just as in cleft lip, cleft palate may appear on one or both sides of the upper mouth. However, repairing a cleft palate involves more extensive surgery and is usually done when the child is nine to 18 months old, so the baby is bigger and better able to tolerate surgery.
To repair a cleft palate, the surgeon will make an incision on both sides of the separation, moving tissue from each side of the cleft to the center or midline of the roof of the mouth. This rebuilds the palate, joining muscle together and providing enough length in the palate so the child can eat and learn to speak properly.
Recovering From Cleft Palate Surgery
For a day or two, your child will probably feel some soreness and pain, which is easily controlled by medication. During this period, you child will not eat or drink as much as usual — so an intravenous line will be used to maintain fluid levels. Elbow restraints may be used to prevent your baby from rubbing the repaired area. Your doctor will advise you on how to feed your child during the first few weeks after surgery. It’s crucial that you follow your doctor’s advice on feeding to allow the palate to heal properly.
The Repaired Lip or Palate
Children with a cleft palate are particularly prone to ear infections because the cleft can interfere with the function of the middle ear. To permit proper drainage and air circulation, the ear-nose-and-throat surgeon on the Cleft Palate Team may recommend that a small plastic ventilation tube be inserted in the eardrum. This relatively minor operation may be done later or at the time of the cleft repair. In addition, surgery may be recommended by your plastic surgeon when your child is older to refine the shape and function of the lip, nose, gums, and palate. You’ll want to discuss further needs with the members of the Cleft Team seeing your child.
Perhaps most important, keep in mind that surgery to repair a cleft lip or palate is only the beginning of the process. Family support is critical for your child. Love and understanding will help him or her grow up with a sense of self-esteem that extends beyond the physical defect.
A cleft lip can range in severity from a slight notch in the red part of the upper lip to a complete separation of the lip extending into the nose. Clefts can occur on one or both sides of the upper lip. Surgery is generally done when the child is about 10 weeks old.
To repair a cleft lip, the surgeon will make an incision on either side of the cleft from the mouth into the nostril. He or she will then turn the dark pink outer portion of the cleft down and pull the muscle and the skin of the lip together to close the separation. Muscle function and the normal “cupid’s bow” shape of the mouth are restored. The nostril deformity often associated with cleft lip may also be improved at the time of lip repair or in a later surgery.
Cleft Lift and Cleft Palate Repair
The scar left after surgery will gradually fade with time.
The cleft lip is then drawn together and stitched to create a normal “cupid’s bow” shape to the upper lip.
To repair a cleft lip, the surgeon will first make an incision on each side of the cleft from the lip to the nostril.
A cleft lip is a separation of the upper lip that can extend into the nose.