About one in 1,700 babies are born with a cleft palate every year in the United States, a condition that causes the tissues of the roof of the mouth to remain open, creating a hole between the nose and the mouth.
The good news is that babies born with a cleft palate can lead normal lives thanks to cleft palate repair surgery. Pediatric craniofacial specialist Dr. Christopher Brooks and the team at Brooks Plastic Surgery work with the cleft palate team at the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in South Florida.
Once your child’s surgery is scheduled, it’s important to understand what to expect and how to prepare so that your baby and your entire family feel more confident and less worried going into the procedure. Keep reading to learn what you need to know.
Two weeks before surgery
Beginning two weeks before your child’s surgery, your child cannot have any aspirin, ibuprofen, or other medications that thin the blood. This is to reduce the risk of bleeding problems during or after surgery.
This is also the time when you will obtain medical clearance from your pediatrician. . You may also bring your baby to visit Dr. Brooks and other team members to review the procedure and have any questions answered that you may have.
The weeks leading up to your child’s surgery also offer the opportunity to discuss the upcoming procedure with any siblings and let them know what to expect. Depending on your child’s age, you may also want to give them an age-appropriate explanation of the procedure.
One day before surgery
One day before your baby’s cleft palate surgery, a nurse from the hospital will call you. You can expect them to ask about your child’s overall health and any recent exposure to viruses, like the flu or COVID-19.
The nurse also reviews instructions regarding your child’s eating and drinking. Although the exact directions vary, typically your child must stop eating six to eight hours before their procedure. Most of the time, they can have clear liquids up to two to three hours before surgery.
You can expect to review when to arrive at the hospital and what to do when you arrive. If your child takes any prescription medications, the nurse will also cover when and how to give it to them on the day of surgery.
This is a good time to ask questions about what you can bring for your child and for yourself, and what the hospital policies are regarding visitation.
The day of surgery
When it’s time for your child’s surgery, the anesthesiologist administers medication to relax your baby and keep them asleep during the procedure. They will also give your child pain medication, so they stay comfortable throughout the surgery.
Once your child is prepped for surgery, Dr. Brooks puts a special device in their mouth to help keep it open for the duration of the surgical procedure. Incisions are then made on both sides of your baby’s palate.
Dr. Brooks loosens the palate’s soft tissue, so it can stretch from the bone, and he makes cuts along the gumline, so it can move to the middle of the roof of the mouth. When the tissues are in place, Dr. Brooks closes the opening between the mouth and nose by stitching the nasal tissue.
Finally, the muscles that work the palate are positioned to facilitate better speech, swallowing, and eating. Dr. Brooks sometimes leaves part of the palate open to reduce the tension across the repair.
Though the exact timing varies, you can expect to take your baby home one to five days following surgery. Before your child is discharged, he or she must be taking enough nourishment by mouth so that the IV is no longer needed. Though every child is different, here are some things you can expect after your baby’s cleft platelet procedure:
- Your child may be fussy and require at-home pain meds for a few days.
- Your child may require no-nos on the arms to prevent the child from touching the palate.
- Your child may have a stuffy nose following surgery — follow the team’s recommendations for treating this.
- There may be blood or pink coloring in your child’s saliva or spit for a few days.
- Do not rub or rinse the incision to clean it — it heals on its own.
Keep in mind that you’ll have post-op appointments with Dr. Brooks, so he can check on your child’s progress and make sure everything is healing the way it should.
If your child has a cleft palate, contact Brooks Plastic Surgery to set up a consultation with Dr. Brooks and work with the top pediatric palate teams in Florida.