Special Breastfeeding Needs: Cleft Lip Or Palate

7/17/2018

Despite moms’ concerns, breastfeeding a baby with a cleft lip or palate is often possible. Moms working through such special feeding needs should always seek assistance from a lactation consultant to help them learn and adapt to their unique situation.

There are some breastfeeding benefits that are particularly important to a baby with a cleft lip or palate. Breast milk helps prevent common ear and nasal infections, and is less irritating to the mucous membranes exposed in babies with this condition. Nursing also strengthens facial muscles that ultimately support speech development later in life. Read on for more information about the unique challenges facing cleft lip or cleft palate babies, and how to address them.

Common Feeding Challenges Facing Babies with Cleft Lip or Palate

  • Trouble maintaining a good seal and vacuum

  • Breast milk entering the nasal cavity

  • Increased fatigue while feeding (may not be getting necessary volume or nutrients)

  • Swallowing too much air

Addressing Cleft Lip or Palate Breastfeeding Challenges

The two most common ways to help a baby with these challenges are to experiment with different feeding positions that give your baby more chin and jaw support, or to use a specialty feeding device.

Try different feeding positions:

  • Upright positions such as a modified football or clutch hold might help. Try using a pillow to tip your baby upright.

  • Your baby sitting on your lap with his or her legs straddling your abdomen.

  • The dancer position with additional jaw and chin support.

Once you find a comfortable position, use your fingertip to draw up some of your breast tissue to close the gap in the lip to help your baby create a seal. This technique is only effective in babies with a cleft lip. Remember to breastfeed in a calm setting with few distractions. You’ll want your little one to focus during feedings.

Specialty Feeding Devices

If your child still struggles to breastfeed or if your baby has both a cleft lip and palate, or just a cleft palate, a special feeding device may be necessary. Medela offers several products to help moms provide breast milk to their child with special feeding needs. But remember, specialty feeding devices should always be used under the guidance of a lactation professional. The SpecialNeeds Feeder is a unique bottle that doesn’t require suction in order for breast milk to flow. The baby stimulates flow by moving their tongue and jaw. Also, the Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) can be used to encourage the baby to keep trying at the breast. Consider using a Medela breast pump with these feeding devices to give your baby all of the amazing benefits of breast milk.

Remember, as your baby awaits surgery, their breastfeeding strength will improve. If you have specific questions or concerns about breastfeeding your child with a cleft lip or palate, reach out to a Lactation Consultant for support.