With more than 75,000 new babies born each year in Ireland at the moment, between 90 and 100 are born with a cleft of the lip and/or palate. While this can initially be distressing for the parents and family, reconstructive plastic surgery is possible to repair the incompletely fused parts. The surgery has a high success rate and a near normal appearance and function can in most cases be achieved. Just the lip alone or the palate alone can be cleft, or in some cases both are cleft. In Ireland all babies with clefts are looked after by Plastic surgeons with specialized expertise in this area, which are backed up by a multi-disciplinary team who will care for the child as they mature.
A member of the Cleft Team will see babies soon after birth and advice given on feeding a child with a cleft palate. As these babies can have difficulty sucking, special bottles/teats may be needed.
The lip repair is done when the baby is about 3 months old, and sometimes some of the palate is repaired at this stage if required. The remainder of the palate is repaired between 6 and 12 months of age. Both of these operations will require a stay in hospital and a general anaesthetic, but the children generally recover quickly.
As the child grows they may need help from such specialists as Ear, Nose and Throat surgeons, Speech therapists, Orthodontists and Maxillo-facial surgeons, all of whom are members of the Cleft Team. They may need further surgery to improve speech, to help straighten their teeth, to correct the shape of their nose and to adjust the shape of their jaws. They will continue to attend the Cleft team until they are about 20 years of age.
Support for parents and patients can be found at www.cleft.ie and www.CLAPA.com