Feeding a Child with a Cleft

How does a cleft affect feeding?

An intact palate (roof of the mouth) is required to generate suction and feed normally. There are several options for alternative ways to feed an infant with a cleft who is unable to breast feed or use a regular bottle.We like to see new infants with clefts as early as possible to make sure feeding is going well.Most newborns with cleft lip/palate are able to become effective oral feeders if their caregivers are able to receive detailed feeding instruction and support.As with all infants, effective oral feeding is vital for growth, comfort, bonding, and promoting normal oral motor development.

Infants born with cleft lip alone and an intact palate may only need lactation support and tips for repositioning the baby to promote normal feeding. Infants born with cleft palate will need individualized assessment and close follow-up to make sure growth is optimized.

What is our team's approach to feeding a child with a cleft?

Our team would like to meet your family as soon as you know about your baby's cleft, whether in a prenatal visit or soon after delivery. We have a craniofacial pediatrician and nurse practitioners with expertise in the early care and management of newborns with cleft lip /palate who are available to see your infant as often as needed while feeding is being established.

We will teach your family to use a special bottle that should provide a safe and comfortable feeding experience for you and your child. Care is taken to minimize other potential feeding problems such as intake of excessive air during feeding, nasal reflux, coughing/choking, intermittent airway obstruction and poorly coordinated suck/swallow pattern. Infants with more complex feeding issues will benefit from referral to our Feeding Team for more comprehensive evaluation.

Our team will help coordinate services with your primary care physician and community health nurse if needed to make sure your baby is growing well.We encourage you to call with any questions or concerns related to feeding. Early referral for feeding evaluation insures a healthy start for these infants and their families.

For more information on feeding, please visit:

Cleft Palate Foundation: Feeding Your Baby