Nutrition is key in cleft corrective surgery – Nutritionist

Parents and caregivers of children with cleft lips and palates have been advised to prioritize the nutrition of their children as it is a major factor to be considered before conducting a corrective surgery.

Cleft lip and cleft palate are openings or split respectively in the upper lip, or the roof of the mouth (palate) respectively or both, which occurs when facial structures that are developing in an unborn baby do not close completely.

Ms. Dede Kwadjo, Head of Nutrition for Operation Smile Ghana, in an interview with the Ghana News Agency, said good nutrition does not only prevent malnutrition but was also a key ingredient in carrying out surgery to correct a cleft lip or palate.

Ms Kwadjo, who is also a Principal Dietitian at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, said the corresponding weight of a child must match the age as a sign of healthiness before being booked for surgery.

She disclosed that a child with a cleft lip must have a minimum weight of not less than six kilogrammes at six months to qualify for surgery, while those with cleft palate must not weigh below 10 kilogrammes as their weight must correspond to their one-year age and above age that such surgery could be carried out.

She revealed that due to the challenge associated with the cleft lip and palates, many such children with the birth defect tend to have poor eating habits leading to weight-related issues.

She said to help put the children in the best nutritional shape for surgery to proceed, the nutritional team of Operation Smile Ghana holds a monthly free session for all children with cleft issues nationwide.

The Head of Nutrition said that they were able to identify the issues early and put in the right interventions to ensure that the surgery was carried out at the appropriate time to save the child from getting speech impairment especially when it involved cleft palates.

She said sometimes the nutritious issues and malnutrition does not always emanate from lack of feeding but sometimes, there was a knowledge deficit from caregivers as some of them lacked the needed knowledge in proper feeding of children.

Ms Kwadjo said some caregivers tend to feed children three times a day just as they fed themselves, not knowing that due to the small stomach size of babies, they needed to be fed frequently to ensure they received the required amount of nutrients for the day.

She indicated that some parents fed the babies frequently but not with the needed nutrients, stating for instance that some gave the babies porridge that had no fortification.

The Principal Dietician of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital said because each case might differ, nutritional assessment must be carried out on individual babies which would inform the type of interventions to be given.

She said when feeding lapses were detected, for instance, the caregivers and parents were empowered through counselling and sensitization on what to do, while the kids who needed nutritional support were given the ready to use therapeutic peanut-based food, plumy nut.

Ms Kwadjo urged parents to seek early care for their babies with cleft lips and palates, explaining that even though the cleft lips do not necessarily affect feeding and speech, they could be corrected early by age six months to avoid stigma and other related issues.

She said however that the cleft palate on the other hand if not reconstructed early could affect the child’s speaking mostly making it nasalized.

She said it was disturbing that due to stigma, some parents hid their babies with the defect, and refused to send them to child welfare clinics (weighing), as well as do not enrol them in schools.

Source: GNA

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