My Baby Couldn’t Suckle Because Of A Cleft Lip, And This Is What I Had To Do

Posted: August 5, 2018

Her son was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, and could not suckle to breastfeed. But this mom persevered and made sure he got mother’s milk. 

Published as a World Breastfeeding Week Special. World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year from 1 to 7 August to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.

When my pregnancy report read positive, I was simply thrilled! After all, I had waited for four years.

From that moment, I had decided to eat, drink and exercise sanely. Of course, I wanted a healthy baby. However, pretty soon morning sickness thwarted my plans. Whatever I ate or drank, I would throw up and this left me weak and dizzy. My prime worry was about my baby – what nutrition would it get? A close friend who heard about my problem advised, “Munch an apple every morning”. I took her counsel. It did help! The nauseating feeling gradually lessened and I was able to eat well. Nevertheless, the sickening taste in my mouth persisted throughout my pregnancy.

The birth of my son

Finally on 7th July 1990, my son was born. It was the most beautiful and great day for me. When I saw him for the first time, I was overjoyed and wanted to just hug him close. He was so cute! But my hands were strapped as I was being given drips and glucose. I just gazed at him and could hardly believe that he was my baby. My doctor exclaimed, “You have delivered a beautiful baby”.

A little later the drips being over, I was asked to breastfeed my baby. Naturally, I was nervous, bit confused but extremely excited. I had always desired to breastfeed my baby for the very obvious reasons. A nurse held my baby and directed how to feed him. He snuggled up to me and tried to suckle. Surprisingly, my son just could not suckle! He winced and then started to cry. He must have been very hungry.

Cleft lips and cleft palate

I was upset and when I realised his problem, I was in for a rude shock. My baby had cleft lips! I peered into his face and could just not believe my eyes! I was devastated. Actually, I had no idea about cleft lips. Yes, I had seen pictures in magazines, but never encountered anyone with it. It was something that had never happened in the family.

“Doctor my son can’t suckle!” I almost screamed.

“Yes, that’s because he has cleft lips. You will have to feed him with expressed milk.” She explained quiet composed. How she could be so unruffled, I wondered.

Feeding expressed milk

Then she proceeded to give directions, “Our present concern is to feed him and because of his cleft lips, he will have difficulty latching on to your breast. Hence you will have to give your baby expressed milk in a cup.”

Sister Nirmala, the nurse brought a clean little cup into which I squeezed milk from my breast. It was a new experience. Friends you can comprehend my emotions. But I mustered great courage and self confidence and did my job calmly. Thus my baby had his first feed-Mother’s milk but in a special way.

Finding a solution

When my husband came in I gave full vent to my feelings. I could control my tears no more. He just held my hands for some time and said, “Be happy our baby can still have his mother’s milk. Many babies have problems and can’t digest breast milk…” Being a doctor himself, he continued to explain about cleft lips, how it was the fourth most common birth defect. Certainly, it can be set right by a small surgery.

The word “surgery” made my heart cringe with pain. After cleft lip and cleft palate surgery, my baby would be able to suck milk. Nevertheless, my maternal heart could not be convinced. What if the surgery left an indelible mark on his lips? Would not that be embarrassing for him in his grown up years? Would not people mock at him? Make fun of him? Such draconian thoughts crisscrossed my mind, while my husband tried to comfort me and set my mind to rest.

After my baby was discharged from the hospital I continued to feed him expressed milk. I had got used to this method and we, both mother and son, enjoyed the sessions. I would sing and feed him with a spoon. He would smile and when satisfied would gurgle, coo and laugh. Gradually, he gained weight and looked quite plump and healthy.

After four months, my darling underwent the operation and again after nine months, the cleft palate surgery. Well that is another story and an ordeal.

Finally, “Alls well that ends well”

My son is now in his late twenties and an engineer in an MNC!. He is tall and very handsome. Whenever I look at him, my maternal heart swells with pride. I am sure he must be setting many women’s hearts go thump!

All babies are special and unique. If yours turns up to be one with special needs, accept it. Of course, it is traumatic and difficult. We are human – so cry, moan and groan. Drown your fears and sorrows in your tears and emerge fresh and determined to face the situation. Only you can help your baby. For every problem there will be a solution. Look for it and believe me you will succeed. Well I have and so can you.

Image source: shutterstock

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I am an English teacher. Have taught in three colleges for almost twenty years. Later

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