You'll find hundreds of files on cleft lip, cleft palate here on

This one is about: Feeding My Child

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by Christine Schnatterer

If there's anything about my son's cleft that defeated me, it's the fact that I could not nurse him in the traditional way. Jesse's bilateral cleft of the lip and palate was very wide and the hospital staff warned me of probable failure. In spite of the drawbacks I tried wholeheartedly.

Jesse would have starved if it were left up to him to encourage my breasts to produce enough milk for his sustenance. The only way that he could have been successfully breast fed was if I hand-expressed the mild directly into his mouth, and I wouldn't have considered that breast feeding. Besides, I didn't have enough hands for that feat - I tried it for a few days. Jesse didn't have the patience to deal with several streams of milk squirting into his mouth and right into his nasal cavity, which caused him to sputter and sneeze. Using a bottle, I could easily direct the single stream of milk at the side of his mouth so as not to choke him.

My struggle to keep Jesse on breast milk was born of disappointment, which is also what gave me the determination and persistence to continue. It was never easy! I expressed the milk directly into a sterile cleft palate nurser, attached a preemie nipple, and fed Jesse immediately, while the milk was still close to body temperature.

I wish I had fond memories of my youngest son drifting off to sleep at my breast. After Jesse's lip surgery at three months of age, I reluctantly weaned him to Enfamil. Part of me was sad to end our team effort, but the rest of me needed a break from the stress of this totally dependent feeding arrangement. When Jesse was able to feed himself by gumming at a large-holed nipple it was a sweet taste of freedom for me.

Looking back to those early days, I have to say, "Breast feeding" Jesse was inconvenient, but it was also rewarding for both of us. I think I would do it all over again if I gave birth to another baby with a cleft.

I agree somewhat with those who report that you can breast feed a child with a cleft, but there's more to the picture than that. Sometimes the best you can hope for is to partially breast feed, and supplement with mother's milk or formula. There are times when you cannot depend on your cleft child to stimulate enough milk to sustain a healthy pattern of growth.

I applaud mothers who are successful in breast feeding their special needs children. I also encourage mothers of cleft-born children to at least TRY to breast feed if they are so inclined. It is important to realize that a mother can only do her best. If your attempts are taking a toll on you physically and mentally, it can't be good for your child. The priority here is to nourish the child with nutrients and love. If you can't provide the nutrient yourself, let Mead Johnson or Gerber do it. Save your energy for loving your child and be proud of your efforts, not ashamed of your failures.

-------Christine Schnatterer is the mother of a cleft-affected son.

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