Feeding & Nutrition

The first, and often most important, step in the cleft care journey is ensuring the child is able to thrive.

Child with a cleft on a scale

Feeding & Nutrition Programs

Babies with clefts are uniquely vulnerable to malnutrition, even when food supply is abundant. This is because clefts affect their ability to suck, often making it very difficult to breast- or bottle-feed. Without support, many babies with clefts will face irreversible effects or even die from malnutrition.

Smile Train knows that achieving our vision of a world where every person has access to safe, high-quality comprehensive cleft care and is able to live a full and healthy life requires inclusive nutrition programs that support mothers and babies impacted by clefts.

Our nutrition programs have been expanding over the years, led by incredible local Smile Train medical partners around the world. COVID-19 has only served to underscore the urgent need for these programs.

Smile Train nutrition programs cover costs of feeding and nutrition specialists to be on staff with our cleft teams, ensuring that every family arriving for care is guided properly. The programs also support the local purchase of vital feeding and nutrition supplies such as breast milk pumps, nutrition supplements, and feeding tools. And finally, our programs support the ongoing communication and travel of patient families and feeding and nutrition specialists so those most vulnerable can continue to receive care until they are healthy enough for surgery.

Our Five-Year Commitment

On September 22, 2021 Smile Train officially announced our five-year commitment to scaling our investment in global nutrition. By the end of 2026, through awareness campaigns, advocacy, program expansion, partnerships, training, and education of health workers, Smile Train’s increased investment in nutrition will result in:

  1. More than one million mothers and children benefiting from cleft-specific feeding counseling 
  2. More than 55,000 child malnutrition cases averted 
  3. Over 40,000 educational opportunities on cleft feeding and nutrition 
  4. More than 1,000 partner hospitals across  70+ countries empowered to offer nutrition services to every mother and child pair affected by cleft 
  5. Over 250 partner hospitals in an organized network offering advanced nutritional care for malnourished children affected by clefts 
  6. A 40% reduction of the number of stunted children undergoing cleft surgery 

When it comes to nutrition and to protecting the health of communities and securing the future of children around the world, we can’t delay. You can find more information and resources around cleft nutrition below. Interested in joining us in our commitment? Email: nutrition@smiletrain.org

Smile Train Feeding Video Cover

Resources for Families

The good news is that there are many resources and guides, such as those provided below, to help families keep their infants with clefts healthy and strong. Please see Smile Train’s Feeding Videos and Handouts available in multiple languages for use worldwide. For access to more resources please email nutrition@smiletrain.org.

Feeding & Nutrition Workshop

Smile Train has partnered with the global nutrition organization SPOON to develop a multi-day workshop called “Supporting Comprehensive Cleft Care Through Nutrition and Feeding” to train nurses, community health workers, and others on effective cleft feeding and nutrition strategies. Topics range from breastfeeding, safe bottle/cup/ spoon-feeding techniques, and weaning to monitoring healthy growth and addressing malnutrition. See our Training Programs – Cleft Team Resources for more information.