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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cleft bottles and cups 101

I have been gathering help from other cleft mamas for this post - so this is a collaboration of my knowledge and other caring mamas who shared their knowledge :-)  When we first accepted our daughter's referral, I had no idea how to feed her.  I had about 5 months to do some research but it took a long time and I read through a lot of websites/blogs.  So I thought it might be helpful to do a post for my cleft mama (or dad!) readers based on my research in combination with others.

There is no correct way to feed your child - ultimately you'll feed them the way that works best.  And of course if your child is older, you could always use a regular cup.  But below are a few options for bottles and sippys to help you on your way.  They are in no particular order, except that the bottles are at the top of the list.  I have linked to Amazon or other website above the image for each product and also mentioned any alterations needed to make the bottle/cup work for cleft-affected children.  The big thing to keep in mind is that cleft-affected children cannot create suction, and can therefore not suck a bottle or sippy cup.  They will not be able to drink out of a normal bottle or sippy that requires sucking without some kind of alteration.  But have no fear, there are many simple ways to make bottles and cups work!

The Haberman Feeder
(No alteration needed - designed for cleft/special needs feeding.  I have heard nothing but great things about them but they are expensive and have a short lifespan, so they need to be replaced when worn out.  No sucking required - they have a special nipple and one-way valve - the nipple only needs pressure to work.)

(Again, no alteration needed - designed for cleft palate use.  They are super-cheap but in my experience, a little difficult to work with because you need to squeeze the bottle and there isn't much airflow.  However, other adoptive mamas have told me that they are absolutely fantastic and quite easy for their kids to figure out how to use on their own, without parental help.)

(No alterations needed - designed for cleft lip & palate use.  One of the bottles has a spoon on the end (several moms have told me they spoon-fed their babies formula), and the other more-popular one looks more like a regular bottle but works with a special nipple and one-way valve like the Haberman.  I have also heard great review of this bottle.)

(Cut larger hole in nipple, squeeze bottle to feed.  They are super-cheap and BPA-free - they worked well for us but it does get exhausting to be constantly squeezing the bottle for your child.)

(No alterations needed - by applying pressure to nipple, child is able to express drink out of the bottle.  Born Free nipples work well as replacements.)

(No alternations needed again - parent can squeeze the drink into the child's mouth with the soft silicone bottle.)

(Child can chew on nipple to express drink.  If more liquid is needed, mom can squeeze on the drop-in insert for more flow.)

(For after-surgery feeding, if needed.)

(Cut the inside of the sippy spout to allow for faster flow.  The child simply bites on the sippy spout and the drink flows through.  These are great because they work for cleft-affected children (no sucking) but they are terribly messy and do wear out quickly.)

(Cut the inside of the sippy spout to allow for faster flow.  Again - the child bites on the spout and drink flows through.  They are messy, but a bit less than the Nuby No-Spills.  We use these regularly now but need to replace them every few months.)

(With the stopper removed.)

(No alterations needed - these are made to foster drinking out of regular cups.  I just love this idea and so does Sunshine - this cup is a hit!  When the child's top lip touches the center part of the cup, it pushes down and the drink is allowed to flow through the top.  Genius!)
(Take the stopper out, the drink flows through the spout.  These are great for palate repair because there is no long spout to potentially poke a hole through a newly-repaired palate.  Many surgeons require that children are drinking out of a regular cup or using a spoutless sippy for palate surgery, so these are perfect cups for that.)

(With valve removed, child only needs to tilt head back to get the drink out.  This is another great option for recovery of palate repair because there is no spout.)

(Child can bite on spout and because of a fast flow, is able to get drink out of the cup fairly easily.)

(Cut holes in the spout to make one long hole instead of 3 small ones.  Super-cheap and they work.)

(Doesn't seem to be any alterations needed - the flow of the liquid is tilted, allowing for a more natural flow.  Child can simply tilt head back but I am unsure about how much pressure is needed on the spout for it to work.)

(A flexible drinking cup - great for during/after surgeries and recoveries.)
This is most definitely not an exhaustive list, but it's a good start.  The big thing to remember is that many, many bottles and cups are alterable to work for cleft children - any alteration to stop the requirement of sucking will work!  If you are adopting and leaving soon to bring your child home, my advice is to pick several options to take with you so your child can use what works best.  If you are reading this post and have successfully used other products for your cleft child, please comment or email me with a link to the product.  I would love to include it!  This is a great way to help other cleft parents, please don't be shy!  Thank you!

Image Credits: Amazon, Target, Pediatric Medical Solutions and Philips.

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  1. Our doctor told us she had to be off the bottle by surgery ( September 6th ) and that she HAS to use a spoutless sippy cup.That one you posted would work bu,I bet it's messy ;(. And,so true about the Habermans.Our insurance covered 3.once she got teeth,she has those nipples shredded within weeks.Great post !!!

  2. I agree with the previous comment that our surgeon requires kids to be OFF the bottle by palate surgery. Following palate surgery I only use a spout-less sippy.

    IMHO the Mead-Johnson bottle is The Best. While it is designed to be able to be squeezed to assist feeding a cleft-affected baby, neither of my cleft kids needed me to squeeze it. They figure out pretty quickly how to basically chomp down on the nipple to allow the formula to flow through. So, to me they are easy-peasy. I've been able to use (re-use I suppose because they claim these are "disposable" which is ridiculous to me) the same set of THREE Mead-Johnson bottles for both of my cleft girls. (Annie was on the bottle for about 8 months and Leah has been using the same bottles for 6 months now.) Just my experience. :)

    Great post, Nicole!

  3. Great post to help waiting and newly matched mamas of children with this special need - well done, girl. I'm pinning it to help others find it!

  4. We use the Gerber with the big hole in the nipple and it works well. The Tender Care Feeders for kids who can't get off the bottle before surgery are great- we would have had to feed 50 oz of formula a day through an eyedropper without those, and that would have been miserable. My friends have snagged them for kids with the flu who need small amounts of fluid very frequently, now that we are post-surgery.


  5. I just wanted to say thank you so much for posting this! My daughter was born with a cleft palate (no cleft lip) about 10 months ago. She's been using the pigeon nipple since birth so she hasn't learned to suck yet. I have been searching and searching for tips on transitioning her to a sippy cup and this is by far the best information I've found! I can't wait to try the sippy cups you've mentioned and see what works best for her. I'm so grateful I stumbled upon your blog and grateful to you for doing all that research in order to help mothers like me. What a blessing! Thank you! Also, I had a question for you. Do you have any tips on how to teach a child to create suction?

    1. Hi Brooke! Thank you so much for your sweet comment, I really appreciate that! I tried to email you back about your question, but there isn't an email associated with your account. Please send me an email at, and I'd be happy to share some of the things we've done to help Sunshine learn how to suck. Take care!

  6. Thank you so much for blessing me with exactly the details and confirmation that I wanted for my daughter with cleft palate. God bless you sister! This is such a blessing to me.

  7. Thank you so much for posting this! We are waiting our TA any day now to pick up our daughter. I was concerned about being able to feed her while in country and this was helpful so I don't over pack! (LOL) but I wanted to make sure what I pack could work for her. My sister shared your blog with me -excited we have so much in common added you to my favorites :) Blessings to you.