The goal of breastfeeding is for your baby to gain weight and enjoy feeding. A few babies with a cleft lip and palate can get all of their food by nursing. Most can nurse a bit, but also need supplemental (extra) feeding.
- Babies with just a cleft of the lip are better at nursing.
- Your baby’s success depends on the type of cleft and your milk supply.
- It is often not clear if a baby with a cleft palate can nurse well at the breast until your milk has "come in." We advise putting your baby to breast several times and follow-up with supplements of pumped milk (or formula if needed). This helps to ensure that your baby gets enough food in the beginning.
Even if your baby is not nursing at the breast, breast milk is still the best feeding choice for babies with clefts. Breast milk:
- Helps your baby prepare for and recover from cleft lip and palate surgery and provides protection against infection
- Is easily digested and contains growth hormone
- Breastfeeding or just spending "skin-to-skin" time with your baby helps with other things as well—mother and baby both benefit from the comfort and time getting to know each other
If you pump for several feedings or more a day, it is best to use a double electric breast pump. Contact a local pump rental company or lactation consultant for more information.
- Your lactation consultant can help you set a pumping schedule that matches your baby's needs. She can also teach you about milk storage and give you other support when you need it.
- Accept help from family and friends to free your time to pump and rest.
- Spend more "skin-to-skin" time with your baby to improve your let-down before pumping.
Pumping is not as pleasant as breastfeeding; accept this and continue so long as you feel it is of value to you and your family. Your baby will benefit from mother's milk so long as you are able to provide it. Some families prefer to freeze some milk to use before cleft lip and palate surgery since hospitals often allow breast milk as a "clear liquid." Clear liquids can be given closer to the time of cleft lip and palate surgery than formula.
*Skin-to-skin time tip: practice feeding at the breast without expecting feeding.