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It will be just like getting a different baby back; Baby Zachery will undergo surgery to correct defects.

Byline: By MARIE LEVY

WHEN mum-to-be Tracey Phillips was told her baby had a cleft lip and palate she had no idea what the future had in store.

The 28-year-old from Redcar had never even heard of the birth defect until it was picked up during a routine scan.

Tracey was heartbroken to think her baby had a split in his upper lip and a split in the roof of his mouth and was frightened she would never be able to leave the house for fear of people staring at him.

But she says the only difficulty she has had since Zachery arrived in the world on Christmas Day is not being able to breastfeed.

Tracey and husband Mark realised something was wrong during their 20 week scan.

"I thought it was just because he would not stay still that it was taking so long," said Tracey who had given birth to Zachery's brother Jamie two years earlier without a problem.

"But the nurse said he might have a cleft palate.

"It was a very big shock.

"I knew absolutely nothing at all about it and just cried my eyes out for a fortnight.

"I kept thinking 'Why are you different? Why could you not be like Jamie?', but it's not his fault.

"I was panicking about the breastfeeding because I breastfed Jamie.

"I was worried that I would bond more with Jamie than him if I could not breastfeed."

Zachery had to have his first feed using a syringe and is now fed using a special squeezable bottle.

Although he can manage to suck, the cleft lip and palate prevent him from creating a seal around the teat.

So Tracey and Mark have to squeeze the bottle as he sucks being careful not to release any milk when he stops for breath.

"I have to get up and make a bottle and pay more attention to him so I don't choke him," said Tracey.

"It's a lot different to breastfeeding but at least Mark can help."

Zachery is scheduled to have the first of three operations in March.

This will involve a surgeon rearranging the skin and muscles of the lip.

When he is about six months old he will have a similar procedure to correct his cleft palate.

A bone graft will also be carried out when he is nine to 12 years old to allow his second set of teeth to come through properly.

Chris Grant, clinical nurse specialist for the cleft lip and palate service, has been helping prepare Tracey and Mark for the operation which will leave Zachery looking very different.

"It will be like getting a different baby back," she said.

Tracey said: "I'm absolutely petrified, but not about him looking different.

"It's handing him over to someone that's going to cut him open."

Cleft lips and palates are among the most common birth defects in the UK affecting one in 650 babies.

Chris said this means there is one in every secondary school but nowadays people hardly notice.

At first Tracey was worried that everyone would get a shock when they looked into the pram but now she takes Zachery out all the time.

"I have not had a problem with other people's reactions," she said.

"I thought it would stop me going out but it doesn't.

"I take him to Sure Start and the staff all fight over him for cuddles.

"He is just completely normal and when he gets his lip done he will be the spit of his brother who absolutely adores him."

Mark, 31, said: "We just want to make people more aware of it and we are hopeful about the operation."

The facts Cleft lips and palates are among the most common birth defects in the UK They affect one in 650 babies.

A cleft lip is a split in the upper lip; a cleft palate is a split in the roof of the mouth.

They occur during early development in the womb, when the upper lip or palate doesn't join together properly.

The cause of clefts is not understood very well.

Sometimes clefts run in families and sometimes a baby is born with a cleft without anyone else in the family having one.

Associated problems include recurrent ear infections, aspiration pneumonia and speech problems later in life if the defect isn't treated early.

Cleft lips/palates are more common in males than females.

For more information, visit www.clapa.com

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CAPTION(S):

HOPEFUL: Parents Mark and Tracey Phillips with their baby Zachery who was born with a cleft lip and palate Pictures by DAVE CHARNLEY; FACING OPS: Baby Zachery has a cleft lip and palate
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jan 29, 2008
Words:781
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