Feeding around a cleft palate operation

Oscar High chair

Oscar had his palate repair operation this Monday. It’s been an emotional and exhausting week but we are relieved to be the other side of the operation. We have been amazed by how quickly Oscar has bounced back. We had our first smile on day 2 and he has been smiling ever since. We are so proud of our little boy for getting through it all and a big thank you to all the doctors and nurses at Great Ormond Street Hospital. A truly amazing and humbling place.

Below are some of my learnings. I hope these can help you if you have a child with a cleft palate. Please feel free to share any thoughts you may have as every child is different and other parents can benefit from your experience.

Before the operation

Oscar’s operation was booked for when he was 7 months old. I was pleased with this as we had ample time to get him used to solids before the operation (we started weaning at 5 months) and would have plenty of time after the operation to progress weaning before he turned 1 year old (the key milestone for getting babies off the bottle and onto family meals).

  • Get to know your child’s eating habits and what they like eating. This will be important when encouraging them to eat after the operation e.g. enticing them with their favourite food.
  • Get your little one well established on solids as the liquids like milk may not be accepted soon afterwards.
  • Introduce the free flow cup. This may provide another option if your baby refuses his bottle
  • Prepare for the nil by mouth period. We knew Oscar would only be going into to surgery after 8.30 in the morning. A few mornings beforehand I started delaying his 7.00 milk feed so he would not be completely distressed on the morning of the operation. Distracting him with a few new toys also helped!

After the operation

It’s an emotional and tiring time but there are things you can do to help.

  • Try to get your baby eating asap after the operation (only if advised by your cleft team). The surgeon informed us that those babies that get eating soon after the operation bounce back quicker.
  • Solids were accepted before liquids. Oscar did not enjoy liquids at all. Apparently this is because liquids are harder to swallow with a sore mouth. Instead we made up some baby porridge with formula so it was runny but could be eaten off a spoon. We also managed to squeeze some puree into his mouth from the ready made baby food pouches.
  • Hydration is important. If they are not drinking, try to sneak liquids into them another way. Add formula or breast milk to purees or prepare baby rice/porridge/cereal with formula or breast milk. We also syringed small amounts of milk into his mouth every now and then.
  • Play with textures. I tried several textures with Oscar before he accepted one. Just keep some milk to hand and mix it in with the porridge until it is just right for your baby.
  • You know your child. Banana porridge was Oscar’s favourite and we had that for all meals for 3 days. He also loves his bouncing chair so we brought this with us to the hospital. He refused to eat anywhere else for the first week. It was a challenge for us as we had to hold it when I fed him so he did not bounce onto the spoon but he was happy so worth it!
  • Try to give milk off the spoon if they won’t accept a bottle.
  • Try feeding little and often. Oscar could not manage much at a time so we fed him whenever he was up for it.
  • Don’t push your baby. I was desperate to get food into Oscar but had to remind myself that he had just had a big operation. Its important for them to eat but you don’t want them to get more upset than necessary. Take a break and try another time

TOP TIP: Don’t worry about how much they are having or giving them balanced meals after the operations. Just feed them their favourite meals and go for the ‘little and often’ approach.

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