Feeding Equipment Hotline 0425 784 136
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We provide specialised feeding equipment, with reduced prices for members. To order or for advice on feeding your cleft-affected baby please get in touch.
Cleft lip and palate babies almost always need special bottles and teats to feed effectively. If you find out your baby will have a cleft while you are pregnant, give us a call to talk about stocking up on bottles and teats before your baby arrives.
You may find you need to try out different feeding equipment before you find the one that suits you and your baby best. Please check manufacturers sterilizing instructions for each piece of feeding equipment, as correct sterilization will prolong the life of all feeding equipment.
For help with feeding, we recommend
- Call our Feeding Equipment hotline 0425 784 136
- Call the Royal Children’s Hospital Cleft Clinic 03 9345 6582
- Talk to your birth hospital, pediatrician, MCH nurse (check that they are experienced in feeding cleft babies)
- To hire breastpumps for expressing, call the Australian Breastfeeding Association on 1800 686 268 or go to their website
Feeding difficulty can occur with any cleft type. The severity of the cleft doesn’t necessarily determine the degree of difficulty with feeding.
Cleft palate interrupts normal suction, as a seal cannot be created. If your baby has a cleft involving the palate, unfortunately s/he will almost certainly not be able to feed directly from the breast. Some mothers have success with extended expressing; most choose to use formula and their babies thrive.
Unfortunately, parents of cleft affected babies are sometimes given incorrect advice.
Faye, Aidan’s mum says: After being given all the wrong advice in hospital (“of course cleft babies can breast feed” “Given the type of cleft he has – soft palate cleft – he can use a normal bottle”) we came home and would spend two hours at a time trying to get him to feed. We did this for two weeks before contacting CleftPALS for help. After talking to CleftPALS we got a Queensland bottle and a Pigeon teat and went from two hours for a feed to half an hour the first time we used it. In the end, we could get through a feed in 15 minutes.
Cleft lip (intact palate)
Babies born with a cleft lip only can occasionally breastfeed. The baby needs to be positioned so that a seal is created. The advice of a breastfeeding counsellor experienced with cleft babies, or a parent of an older cleft baby who was able to breastfeed, may help.
Susannah, Leo’s mum says: We were happy to find Leo could breastfeed. It took quite a lot of work and a full day of help from a breastfeeding counsellor to get things going and I had to lean over to one side and wiggle about and it wasn’t at all a traditional breastfeeding position but it worked. We tried him on a bottle too and he couldn’t get on with a normal bottle at all, he just didn’t have the strength in his lip, so then we tried a squeezy bottle and chu-chu teat and that worked fine. I thought after his surgery he’d be able to use a normal bottle but it never worked for him, so we carried on breastfeeding and bottle feeding from the squeezy bottle until he graduated to cups.
Many cleft lip (intact palate) babies or babies with microform clefts are not able to breastfeed or to use a “normal” bottle. Some can breastfeed but can’t use a normal bottle. Others can’t breastfeed but can use a normal bottle. For any cleft affected baby, it’s a good idea to have a special bottle such as Special Needs Feeder (Haberman’s) or squeezy bottle on hand.
How your baby feeds is no reflection on the type of parent you are. Sometimes the professional advice can be contradictory or just plain wrong. Don’t blame yourself. The most important thing you can do for your baby is persevere with love and patience and work out the way that works best for them.
Most common feeding solutions for newborns
Most cleft babies are fed using a special bottle:
- Formula feeding through a bottle
- Expressing breastmilk and feeding through a bottle
CleftPALS has information on bottles and can talk about what works for other babies and parents. Call our Feeding Equipment hotline on 0425 784 136.
For help on long term expressing, the Contact Parent hotline can team you up with a mother of a cleft affected baby who achieved this; or try the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
How to use special bottles
For help with bottles, call the Feeding Equipment Hotline 0425 784 136.
This section is intended to give you an overview of some of the issues that may come up when feeding a baby with a cleft, and to share common solutions. Every child is different and will have different requirements, so what works for one parent will not work for all. The information in this section is a general guide only and should never replace the advice given to you by medical professionals.
Feeding solids to a cleft palate affected baby
Parents of cleft palate affected babies often ask if they need to do anything different when starting their little one on solids. Experience varies:
Faye says: I didn’t do anything different in introducing solids to my cleft child than I had with my non-cleft child. Because he had to have “soft” diet after surgery for around four weeks I did find he was slower taking lumpier and finger foods.
Sherree says: I have had a few dramas with feeding solids… At 14 months we are still on mashed foods and very soft things in small portions. He seems to gag on anything chunkier. I am waiting to see someone later this month about the situation. And I find him slower at taking lumpier and finger foods.
Tammy says: Courtney was very slow at handling lumpier foods and still prefers mashed potato over anything else. She struggles a lot eating meat and will spit it out rather than finish trying to chew it and swallow. My only trick is to try and hide things in her potato mash, cauliflower and cheese works best being a similar colour. She does like Bolognaise also as I have the meat very fine and I add mash vegetables such as peas, broccoli, spinach in. I used to also add pureed apple in to sweeten it up when she was younger, but don’t have to any more. It has been a challenge and eating any sort of fruit never happens. The only one she will contemplate is banana, because it is soft, but she won’t eat apples or pears. My speech therapist and she has given me some chewing exercises to help her strengthen the muscles involved for eating and can be done from a young age.
Stacey says: I didn’t do anything different. Being the third child, he just had to fit in and pretty much ate whatever we were eating. He was very unimpressed at having a soft diet for 6 weeks after surgery, but after that was straight back to normal.
We recommend trying standard “starting your child on solids” advice and seeing how you get on. Work with your sympathetic MCH nurse. If you need help, contact your GP, pediatrician, cleft clinic or a specialist speech pathologist, or call the CleftPALS Contact Parent helpline.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I feed my baby from the breast?
Breastfeeding is sometimes possible for a baby with a cleft lip, but is unlikely to be possible for babies with a cleft palate.
But breastfeeding is very important to me. I really wanted to breastfeed and they say breast is best.
Yes, we know how you feel. This can be a very difficult part of having a baby with a cleft for some parents. If you need to talk through sadness about not being able to breastfeed, chat to the cleft community on Facebook, your supportive GP, MCH nurse, counsellor or other supports. Please remember that what’s important is that your baby thrives.
What kind of bottles should I use?
Your Cleft Nurse Specialist will advise you on whether or not you need to use specialist feeding equipment.
How will I feed my baby after surgery?
Individual circumstances will vary, so it’s best to ask your Cleft Team so that if there are to be any changes you will have time to let your baby get used to them first.
After a lip repair surgery, you can usually start feeding your baby again by breast or bottle straight away. In some cases surgeons will recommend you feed your baby using a cup and spoon method for a while. Some Cleft Teams feel that sucking on a dummy after surgery will damage the repair, so it’s best to ask to be sure.
The timing of palate repair surgery will vary, so depending on your child’s age they may be weaned but still using a bottle for milk or other liquids.
Some surgeons prefer you not to use a bottle immediately after the palate operation, so ask your team for advice, as you may need to get your baby used to a spoon bottle or short spouted trainer cup before the operation. The same may apply to a dummy.
How much weight should my baby be gaining?
All babies can lose up to 10% of their birthweight but usually regain it in two to three weeks. If a baby is having five to six wet nappies a day and regular motions, is healthy and alert, these are indications that he or she is being fed enough.
If you are concerned, contact your Cleft Team or GP. Sometimes, babies will need to be given high calorie milk to help them take in enough nutrition.
Do babies with a cleft have issues with wind?
All small babies require winding and your baby will usually let you know when he or she is uncomfortable. If the milk flow is correct, your baby will not have more wind than normal. If your baby has a cleft lip, you may hear a ‘hissing’ sound during breastfeeding which indicates they are not forming a proper seal around the breast and are swallowing too much air.
If your baby appears to be windy try stopping 2 or 3 times during the feed to burp the baby.
Why is milk coming down my baby’s nose?
If the flow is too fast, milk may pass into the nose through a cleft palate and cause sneezing, or some milk may come down the nose if your baby is being sick. Your baby will normally clear this, but have some tissues or a bib handy!