Cleft Lip Repair and Benefits

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All expecting parents hope and pray for a perfectly healthy child, and lingering "what ifs?" certainly weigh on the minds of many. Birth defects range from mild to severe to life threatening, but one of the most common birth defects is cleft lip. If your child is born with one, your doctor will inform you of the steps involved leading up to and after cleft lip repair.

What is cleft lip?

According to the Mayo Clinic, a cleft lip is a split that occurs in the upper lip resulting from a failure of facial and mouth tissues to fuse completely before the child is born. This typically occurs in either the second or third month of pregnancy. This may be visable on an ultrasound, and will be immediately recognizable to the delivery doctor.

Cleft lip is fairly easy to fix through a series of surgeries that leave minimal scarring, and the condition needs to be surgically repaired for several reasons: A child's tooth and speech development can be affected if the cleft runs through the upper gum. Additionally, young children will possibly deal with behavioral, emotional and social problems due to their differing appearances from their peers and the medical care required for the cleft.

The procedure & repair

Before any surgical procedures occur, your doctor will perform a consultation with you and ask several questions, including whether there is a family history of clefts and whether your child struggles during feedings because of the cleft. The typical age for cleft lip repair is during the first 12 months of your child's life. The initial surgery will take place in a hospital and your child will be given a general anesthetic. During the surgery, the doctor creates tissue flaps by making incisions on both sides of the cleft. Those flaps are stitched together, resulting in a more natural lip in terms of function, structure and appearance.

After surgery

A child's life will improve in multiple ways after cleft lip repair surgery, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Your child's self-esteem won't suffer as they enter school, and they won't feel like an outcast for being different from other children. They will also be able to speak, breathe and eat better than they could before the surgery.

Cleaning and care

After surgery, the National Institutes of Health advises to keep the wound clean so that it can properly heal. For three to four weeks, no pressure should be placed on the wound and it should be cleaned with soap and water. The medical staff can also supply you with a special cleaning solution and a healing ointment to apply. Your child will also need to be on a liquids-only diet until the wound has completely healed. Once your child starts to sprout teeth, help them develop good oral habits by using Fluoride-Free Toothpaste to keep those teeth clean and healthy.