When Should You Pursue Corrective Surgery For Your Infant's Cleft Lip?

Health & Medical Blog

If your child was recently born with a cleft lip but intact palate, you may be relieved that he or she is able to nurse and otherwise function without the interventions often necessary for infants with severely cleft palates -- from nasogastric tubes for feeding to narcotics for pain. However, you may still be eager to schedule the surgery that will close your baby's lip for good, leaving him or her with only a barely perceptible scar where there was once a congenital separation. When should you schedule this surgery, and what may you expect from the procedure itself? Read on to learn more about surgical correction of cleft lips and what you'll want to consider when pursuing your infant's first procedure.

How are cleft lips surgically corrected?

Cleft lips are one of the most common birth defects in the U.S., and form very early in pregnancy -- when the lips and palate first come together and well before the skull and facial bones have fused into place. When this process is interrupted somehow, your infant will be left with a cleft lip and palate or sometimes just a cleft lip.

Repairing a cleft lip alone is a relatively simple procedure when compared to reforming and surgically correcting the entire palate. The surgeon may be able to simply stitch the sides of the lip together, or in some cases by using skin grafts to fill in any gaps. In many cases, a skilled plastic surgeon can ensure your infant's incision and scar will be so fine as to be barely imperceptible once he or she has reached the teen years or adulthood. This can calm many parents' worries about their child being teased or ostracized due to a visible facial scar.

What should you consider when deciding when to seek cleft lip repair for your child? 

Because repair of even the most minor cleft lip will require general anesthesia, it's usually best to wait until your baby is at least 3 to 6 months old before undergoing this procedure unless the cleft lip is causing major health issues (like weight loss or malnutrition).

On the other hand, for infants whose cleft lips seem to give them no trouble with feeding, more frequent ear infections, or the other potential side effects of this congenital birth defect, it can sometimes be tempting to put off this surgery until they're a bit older. While it's good to wait at least the minimum 3 to 6 months before pursuing surgery, waiting more than a year or 2 could make it more difficult for the surgeon to avoid leaving a permanent scar or relying on a larger supply of skin grafts (sometimes meaning multiple operations).

For more information, contact a quality medical facility, such as the Shriners Hospitals for Children – Cincinnati.


29 December 2016

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