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Preparing for Surgery

Before the big day

Before taking your baby in for surgery it is likely you will have been given a special post-surgical feeding method – it is essential you practise this before the surgery so your baby is upset as little as possible in recovery.

You are able to visit the Ward beforehand and ask any questions you might have. It’s also a good idea to think ahead about what will happen when you return home with baby- do you have enough help with your other children, meals, housework so you can concentrate on your baby’s recovery needs and appointments.

Lots of photos taken before surgery and afterwards, with every member of the family involved, will also be a valuable and priceless record everyone can look back on. Because once the changes start happening there’s no going back.

On the day

On the day bring familiar and comforting articles with you for baby- like toys, blankets, books and music.Make sure your other children have had everything fully explained to them so they feel part of what’s happening and can look forward to the outcome.

If your surgeon requires, your baby may need to wear armsplints after the surgery to keep the repair safe from harm.  One pair is given to you free from Cleft New Zealand and the nurses will give you these at the hospital.  If you would like another pair, you can order here.


Surgeries are sometimes postponed either because of an emergency at the hospital or because our babies catch colds, which is not safe for anaesthetic.

If your baby or child does catch a cold visit your GP as soon as possible, and in fact some parents choose to stay at home before surgery to minimise the risk of infection. The risk of postponement is there with all surgeries no matter what they are for, and there is always a next time.

Plans can change…

Fully repairing a cleft takes time, and the plan you have been working to can change slightly as your child grows. It’s advisable to focus on the immediate treatment rather than fretting or worrying what’s ahead as this really depends on how your child develops – and as individuals, they all develop differently.

Surgery Timing

The time when surgeries are carried out do vary slightly between countries- the timings in New Zealand have been decided by the medical profession due to a number of key factors:

  • The size and general health of the baby for successful surgery.
  • The repairs need to match the developmental stage of the child, ie the mouth being anatomically and physiologically correct before the child learns to talk (around 9 months of age)
  • Individual experience and preference of the surgeons.
  • Collective knowledge based on prior experience and international research.

Given the above factors have been met, generally in New Zealand, a cleft lip is repaired between 3-5 months of age and a cleft palate is repaired between 9-12 months of age. For more information go to Medical Facts.

As your child grows

Taking your child for surgery doesn’t get any easier. As your child grows up they are more aware and involved in the process. Make sure your child has the information they need to feel confident. For young children they don’t need complicated explanations or a long time to think about it before hand. Answer any questions they have honestly. Start off simply and if they want to know more they will ask another question.

Part of growing up is relying on other sources of information to help you make decisions. Your teenager will want information from other young people, sometimes in replace of you. This is a normal part of their development. You can contact Cleft New Zealand to source accurate, safe information for your growing child.  Direct them to the Kids Only and TeensPlus sections of this website.