One of the most critical problems confronted by a parent with a child with a cleft may be difficulty in feeding. Before surgical repair, the split in the lip or mouth may affect the normal action of sucking that is vital for feeding. Even after cleft repair, post-surgical complications may make feeding difficult, requiring specialized care.
During the period before surgery, parents are generally concerned about the problems of feeding and bonding. A number of feeding approaches are available to the parents of children with clefts, but some trial and error may be necessary in finding the method that works best. Bonding is an emotional and psychological process based on love, trust and interdependency that takes place between the parents and the child. It establishes the basis of the parent-child relationship. Breastfeeding has been viewed as especially important in facilitating bonding. This has to do in part with the physical as well as psychological interdependency of breastfeeding.
However, successful, effective bonding is not dependent on breastfeeding and can take place when other methods of feeding are used. The important thing is that the child is held and nurtured. Holding the baby during feeding, allowing ample time for feeding, permitting the child to play and talking to the baby are ways parental-child bonding can be ensured.
Some babies with clefts have difficulty breastfeeding. It is important to monitor, with your doctor, the weight of the baby. While some babies may not have the ability to suckle sufficiently to breastfeed, some do. If a family has made a commitment to breastfeed their child, the presence of the child's cleft should not deter them from trying. For the mother of a child with a cleft, it is tempting to attribute early problems to the cleft when they actually may be problems all mothers face during the learning process.
Below are strategies for safely feeding a baby with a cleft lip and/or palate.
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