Surgery is always needed to treat
cleft lip, and sometimes multiple procedures are
needed over several years. Some treatments, such as speech therapy, may
continue into early adulthood.
Your child's doctor or a
health care team will examine your newborn before your
baby goes home from the hospital. These professionals can tell you how to care
for your child before surgery.
Sometimes cleft lip is treated with
presurgical supports, such as special dental splints, soft dental molding
inserts, or medical adhesive tape. A child with a cleft lip and
palate may be treated with presurgical
Surgical repair of cleft lip
When the surgery
takes place depends upon a number of things, including what your doctor
suggests, your baby's health, and the cleft itself. Most doctors agree that
cleft lip should, in most cases, be repaired by the time your baby is 3 to 6
When deciding on the timing
and type of surgery needed to repair a cleft lip, the
doctor considers factors that relate to the
classification of the cleft and the baby's overall
condition. Such considerations include:
- Whether the cleft is complete or incomplete.
A complete cleft lip is a deep split in the upper lip that extends into one or
both sides of the nose. An incomplete cleft lip affects only one side of the
upper lip and may appear as a slight indentation or as a deep notch. See a
picture that shows a complete cleft lip and an incomplete cleft lip .
- How much of the lip is involved. A cleft lip can affect
one side of the upper lip (unilateral) or both sides
- Whether the baby has a
cleft palate or any defects of the nose. Usually, any
additional facial disfigurements make surgical treatment more
- The size and health of the baby.
- Whether it
is possible that the baby has a broader health condition.
After surgery to correct a cleft
lip, your baby may need to wear a head bonnet across the upper lip and taped to
the cheeks, face, and head. The bonnet is made of a strap bandage reinforced
with wire. This device helps prevent the lip from stretching and protects the
stitches from breaking or separating. The head bonnet is worn for as long as it
takes your child's lip to heal.
Your baby's arm movements may be
restricted with splints or other material for as long as 3 weeks. This is
sometimes needed to prevent your baby from touching and damaging the
After your baby's surgery, you will need to:
- Take measures to prevent infection and
promote healing. Your health care team will offer guidance, but in general make
sure you keep the area clean and protect the lip from injury.
- Make sure your child is eating and drinking well. Feeding by bottle or at the breast usually doesn't
require any special measures.