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Basic Facts About Paediatric Cleft Lip Surgery

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The method of fixing a child’s cleft lip or a hole in the palate or the roof of the mouth is called pediatric cleft lip surgery. If your child has a cleft palate, the pediatric cleft lip surgery will be done and your child will be under general anaesthesia, and this means that he or she is going to be asleep for the whole duration of the surgery. 

If your child will be under general anaesthesia, you will have to abide by important rules of what to eat and drink hours before your child undergoes surgery. The cleft lip surgery will usually take two to six hours, as this will depend on the type of the extent of the cleft lip or palate repair that your child is going to need. After that, your child will be required to stay for at least one day after the surgery. 

Brief background

The condition called cleft palate is a hole in the roof of the mouth, and this condition is present at birth. This happens during the early stage of pregnancy when the baby is still developing inside the womb of the mother. At this early stage, the left and the right sides of the face along with the roof of the mouth will be merging together. There are times where two sides are not going to fuse correctly, thereby leaving an opening, or called a ‘cleft’ in the palate.

If a cleft lip or palate is left untreated, a child that is born with it will be facing difficulties in terms of feeding, growth, development, ear infections, hearing, and one of the most significant difficulties among all these is speech development. This is the reason why it is essential that you have to correct the cleft in the early stage of your child’s life which is usually between 6 to 18 months old. 

The cleft palate surgery is the procedure being done to repair the palate, and the goal of this procedure is to let the child achieve understandable speech. So, there might be more than one surgery that is going to be needed in order to completely close the opening of the roof of the mouth of the child, or the surgeon may even have to change the palate in order to achieve a more normal speech. So, with this procedure, virtually makes every child born with a cleft able to lead a healthy and happy life. 

What to do at home before the paediatric cleft lip surgery 

When your child is required to be under general anaesthesia, there will be rules that have to be followed on what to eat and drink a few hours before the pediatric cleft lip surgery. So, on the day before the surgery of your child, you should she able to receive a call from a nurse. The calls are usually made during business days, not on weekends and holidays. So when you receive the call, make sure that you have your pen and paper ready for you to take note of all of the important instructions because if these instructions are not strictly followed, then this might end up with the cancellation of your child’s surgery.

You should not give your child solid food or non-clear liquids after midnight the night before your child’s surgery if they are above 12 months old. So this will include milk, formula, juices that have pulp in them, and chewing gum or even candy. 

If your child is formula-fed, and he or she is below twelve months old, he or she should be given formula for up to six hours before the scheduled arrival time. And if your child is breastfed, your baby should be nursed for up to four hours before the scheduled arrival time. 

For all children, they should only be given clear liquids two hours before the scheduled arrival time. So these clear liquids include water and some juices that you can still see through like apple or white grape juice. And when there are only two hours left before the scheduled arrival time, you should not give any drink or something to eat for your child. 

Expectations during the paediatric cleft lip surgery

The cleft lip surgery of your child will be done at the hospital that you have contracted. So, you will be meeting with one of the doctors that are part of your child’s surgical team so that they can provide you with details on what will happen during the surgery. The doctor will also answer any last-minute inquiries that you might have. There will also be a member of the anaesthesia team who will meet with you and your child in order to review the medical information of your child and be able to decide as to what kind of sleep medication should your child receive. You will also be asked to sign a consent form as the child’s parent or guardian before they will proceed with giving anaesthesia. 

The doctor will give your child a special medication in order for him or her to relax just in case he or she gets upset or scared before the surgery and this medication is also flavoured and can take effect after ten to fifteen minutes. 

For young children, they will be getting their sleep medication through a space mask and this will carry air that is mixed with medication. So your child may be able to choose the scent that they want in order to flavour the air that will flow through the mask. So no shots or needles are going to be used while your child is awake. 

When your child falls asleep, he or she will then be given an intravenous or IV line which will be inserted into a vein of your child’s arm or your child’s leg in order for your child to receive medication and to keep him or her asleep all throughout the surgery. Thus, your child will not be feeling any pain during the surgery and will not even have any memory such afterwards.


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Elena Deeley did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.

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