Having a child who needs surgery can be a daunting experience for any parent. One common type of surgery that is often required early in a child’s life is for cleft lip and palate. However, parents can take comfort in knowing that the outcome after surgery and additional therapies is typically excellent.
A cleft lip and palate occur when the upper lip or the roof of the mouth does not fully form during fetal development. This can happen separately or together. The exact cause of cleft lip and palate is unknown but is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It’s important for parents to understand that they could not have done anything to prevent this condition.
While a child with cleft lip and palate may have unique needs, they are usually otherwise healthy. It is normal for parents to feel overwhelmed, but it is important to remember that they are not alone. Pediatricians can connect parents with specialists who can provide the necessary support to optimize feeding, speech, and breathing. Early intervention is key to ensure the child’s development in these areas.
The timing of corrective surgery varies depending on the specific case. Cleft lip repair can typically be done between 2-6 months, while cleft palate repair surgery is usually performed between 9-18 months. In some cases, multiple surgeries may be required.
Before the surgery, parents will meet with a plastic surgeon who will gather a detailed medical history, examine the child’s condition, and develop a surgical plan tailored to their specific needs. It is important for parents to come prepared with any questions or concerns they may have. The cost of the surgery is usually covered by insurance, and any necessary paperwork can be completed with the help of the surgeon’s office or a social worker.
On the day of the surgery, parents will need to arrive at the hospital or surgery center a few hours before the scheduled procedure. The child will be checked in and brought to a pre-operative area, where they will change into a surgical gown. The surgical team, including the pediatric anesthesiologist and plastic surgeon, will examine the child and address any concerns. Parents will be asked to sign a consent form, indicating their understanding of the procedure and its risks. They can stay with their child until they are taken into the operating room.
During the surgery, the child will receive either intravenous sedation or general anesthesia to ensure their comfort and safety. The surgeon will close the gap in the lip, reconstruct any nasal deformities, and make incisions in the roof of the mouth to bring the tissue together and close the gap in the palate. The incisions will be closed with sutures.
After the surgery, parents will be able to see their child in the post-operative area. The child will likely stay in the hospital overnight and can go home the next day if cleared by breathing and swallowing specialists. Parents will receive instructions for caring for the surgical site, signs of complications to watch out for, and feeding guidelines.
Follow-up appointments with the surgeon will be scheduled to ensure the child is healing well and to discuss any further surgeries that may be needed. Parents will continue to work with a team of specialists in feeding, speech, and overall health. It is important for parents to remember that they are not alone in this journey. The plastic surgeon and other specialists are there to provide guidance and support every step of the way.