Some children are born with a separation in one/both sides of the lip; this condition is referred to as a cleft lip. A baby’s left and right profiles merge right in the womb of the mother. If there’s any abnormality in this fusion of the two sides of the face and the roof of the mouth, it results in a cleft lip.
Cleft lips can be of two kinds – unilateral or bilateral. Unilateral cleft lip indicates a separation in the lip on one side of the face, and bilateral refers to a separation on both sides of the face. If the cleft lip travels all the way up to the nose, the condition is known as a complete cleft lip. Otherwise, it is called an incomplete cleft lip.
When Should Cleft Lip/Cleft Palate Repair Be Performed?
Cleft lip repairs are initially performed when a child is at least 10 weeks of age and 10 pounds in weight. Cleft palate repairs are generally performed when a child is somewhat older, from nine to 18 months of age.
Correction of a cleft lip or palate usually requires multiple procedures during a child’s growth and development. Intervention is recommended early because of other medical problems that can be associated with clefting, particularly ear infections.
Ideally, a child’s cleft lip should be corrected within six months of their birth. If the cleft lip surgery is delayed for whatever reason, the child could face difficulties in growth and development, hearing, speech, ear health (ear infections), and feeding. The facial appearance will also be negatively affected. Cleft lip surgery can successfully repair a cleft lip with minimal scarring and side-effects. Once the surgery has been performed, the child can continue to live to their full potential.
How Is a Cleft Lip Surgery Performed?
The first step in cleft lip surgery is the administering of anesthesia. The doctor may suggest intravenous sedation or general anesthesia, depending on the age and health of your child.
The next step of the surgical procedure is the incisions. The goal of the surgery is to join the gap in the lip together to restore normal mouth and nose functioning. Incisions are made on both sides of the cleft, which creates flaps of skin, intraoral tissue, and muscle. These flaps are then brought together and stitched shut, creating a normal lip and nasal structure.
The incisions will be stitched shut with removable or absorbable sutures. Any scars are carefully positioned on the upper lip and nose contours. These scars will fade over time and will not interfere with your child’s physical appearance.
After the surgery, bandages may be placed over the incisions. You will be provided with specific aftercare instructions to help you care for your child after their cleft-lip surgery.
There will be some dietary restrictions, and your child may have to be subject to arm restraints intended to keep the child from touching the operated area and interfering with proper healing. Pain medication may also be prescribed to help them deal with any discomfort experienced.