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 websites in the bolded caption under the image for each product, but please let me know if links no longer work so I can update them!  I have 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 are unable to create suction until at least after their palate repair and possibly after speech therapy.  Therefore, they cannot suck a bottle or sippy cup.  Normal bottles and sippy cups will require 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.

Mead Johns Cleft Palate Nurser: 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.

Pigeon Feeder System: 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.

Gerber First Essentials Nurser: 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.

Prince Lionheart Medical Grade Silicone Bottle: 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.

Comotomo Bottle: No alternations needed again – parent can squeeze the drink into the child’s mouth with the soft silicone bottle.

Playtex Drop-Ins Bottles: Child can chew on nipple to express drink.  If more liquid is needed, mom can squeeze on the drop-in insert for more flow.

TenderCare Feeder: For after-surgery feeding, if needed.

Nuby No Spill Sippy Cup: 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.

Nuby No Spill Sports Sipper: 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 used these regularly for awhile but needed to replace them every few months.

Avent Magic Trainer: With the stopper removed.

Avent Natural Drinking Cup: 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 and we’ve since used it for our non-cleft-affected son!  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.  Don’t let the negative comments on Amazon fool you, this is a wonderful option!

NUK Gerber Graduates Spout Learning Cup: 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. (Update: It doesn’t appear that Amazon is offering the same product as originally posted, but they have a few similar options.)

Playtex Coolster Tumbler: 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.

Tommee Tippee Explora Lil Sippee Training Cup: Child can bite on spout and because of a fast flow, is able to get drink out of the cup fairly easily.

First Years Take & Toss Cups: Cut holes in the spout to make one long hole instead of 3 small ones.  Super-cheap and they work.

Tilty Cup: 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.  I don’t believe you can find these on Amazon, but they are still available elsewhere online.

Nosey Cup: A flexible drinking cup – great for during/after surgeries and recoveries.

This is obviously 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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  • May 31, 2012 - 7:34 pm

    mommy26baybas - 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 !!!ReplyCancel

  • June 1, 2012 - 3:20 am

    Stephanie - 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!ReplyCancel

  • June 1, 2012 - 2:40 pm

    Kelly the Overthinker - 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!ReplyCancel

  • June 2, 2012 - 1:02 am

    Matt and Maria - 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.


  • July 15, 2013 - 8:42 pm

    Brooke - 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?ReplyCancel

    • July 16, 2013 - 1:13 pm

      Living Out His Love - 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!ReplyCancel

    • September 15, 2014 - 11:51 am

      Jennifer - Brook, witch sippy cup worked best for your daughter? My son is 11 months and so far the advent cup works for him but it dose slip a little. I think I’d like to try more of a sippy cup looking one but I’m not sure witch one works best. Like the boon style cup or the playtex coolster tumbler? What worked for your daughter? My little guy is having his surgery next month.ReplyCancel

  • September 29, 2013 - 12:53 pm

    ESP - 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.ReplyCancel

  • January 6, 2014 - 12:28 pm

    Carrie - 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.ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2014 - 7:44 pm

    Christina - Thanks for this great information! Our son has PRS and we’ve been looking for a cleft friendly sippy cup to start his transition before his surgery. This has been a really amazing resource for us.ReplyCancel

  • May 9, 2014 - 9:38 am

    Emily - What a phenomenal resource! Thanks for all of your tips. This should be given out at hospitals.ReplyCancel

  • July 20, 2014 - 11:15 pm

    jen - My son has a soft palate. When drinking from
    bottle, he would push the nipple against the top
    of his mouth to “suck”. Dr. Brown’s nipple
    size 3 or 4 had a fast flow that worked perfect.
    My advice is to try anything and everything!!ReplyCancel

  • July 21, 2014 - 9:30 pm

    Jenny - I waited as long as I could – probably too long – to introduce bottles to my baby. Time goes quickly with a little one, and all of a sudden she was 12 weeks old and I was about to return to work! It is apparently recommended to introduce bottles before 6 weeks – whoops. So I researched bottles. What would be the easiest bottle for my baby to get used to, without disrupting breastfeeding?
    I can’t answer that question. This is the only bottle we needed to buy. There was a bit of a learning curve, but after a couple feeds, she was able to drink from the bottle with no problem. There has been no negative effect on her ability to nurse. I am very pleased. Dad is very pleased, as baby enjoys taking the bottle and he now gets to feed her sometimes.
    The bottle itself has a cute design. It is entirely silicone, which gives it a unique look and feel. The silicone is also flexible, which allows squeezing the bottle to simulate “letdown.” The design is fairly simple, so there are not lots of tiny pieces to clean and assemble. Only negative: clear markings are a bit hard to read. This is not a big deal for us, as we are using frozen breastmilk for which the volumes are already labeled.ReplyCancel

  • September 15, 2014 - 11:38 am

    Jennifer - Thank you SO much for
    All this information it was so helpful! You are a blessing thank you so much 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 5, 2015 - 9:10 pm

    phoenix thompson - My doctors are doing the lip gum and palate all at once and they haunt told me anything about being off a bottle or mind of sippy cup to useReplyCancel

    • February 6, 2015 - 11:14 am

      Jessica - I guess they do it differently in different places. I’m in Texas and my son got his lip repaired at 3 months and will get his palate surgery at age one. Then when he is a bit older and has some teeth, they will do the gum surgery (bone graft, etc). My doctor hasn’t told me about drinking from the sippy cup but I keep reading from various sources that I need to prepare him for after his surgery. I do have an appointment next month with this doctor for pre-op before the palate surgery. I will keep you posted as to what she says.ReplyCancel

  • February 6, 2015 - 11:09 am

    Jessica - My son was born with cleft lip and palate. He is going to be 8 months this month. I have to start training him to drink from a sippy cup without the spout so that he is familiar with it after his palate surgery which will be at age 1. I will try Avent Natural Drinking Cup and see how it works. I truly am thankful that I found this website. Thank you for doing this. God bless you and your family.ReplyCancel

  • March 3, 2015 - 6:27 pm

    Samantha - thank you so much, this has been very helpful. my son is 3 months old and was born with a cleft palate. we had started with the mead Johnson feeder but after he received his palatal obturator at about 5 weeks old we switched to the haberman. We have spoken with a feeding therapist about starting him on cereal and sippy cup around 4-5 months and this post has been very helpful in trying to figure out which cups might work for his. thank you so much for taking your time to do this for everyone.ReplyCancel

  • April 12, 2015 - 10:15 am

    Lilly - Wow, this is such a great post! I wish I had seen it 8 months ago when my son was born. After trying the Haberman, Mead-Johnson, and Pigeon bottles we ultimately went with Dr. Browns and a modified y nipple. His palate repair was two weeks ago and he’s doing great! In fact, we accidentally gave him a bottle with a level 4 nipple and he finished the whole thing. I’m now thinking of switching him to all level 4s.ReplyCancel

  • April 21, 2015 - 5:28 pm

    Sara - Thank you for collecting this information. Our daughter has been using the Pigeon bottle and nipple for almost 11 months now. It has been wonderful to help her eat since she has no suction due to her cleft palate. We have recently been instructed to thicken her milk to honey consistency and now it takes twice as long to feed her and she takes less than half of what she used to eat. We moved up to the larger pigeon nipple, but I am wondering if anyone has suggestions to help a cleft palate baby on thickened breastmilk. She tires out after trying to eat because it takes so long and appears to be ineffective. Thank youReplyCancel

  • May 7, 2015 - 2:08 pm

    Shana - Nicole, thank you for this analysis. I am starting with the Gerber bottles and cutting the nipples. I am also getting the Nuby No Spill Sports Sipper to start with. We’ll go from there depending on what our daughter needs. thank you, ShanaReplyCancel

    • May 12, 2015 - 9:31 am

      Nicole Renée - Shana, you are so welcome! I can’t wait to see your precious daughter in your arms! Eeeek!!!!!!ReplyCancel

  • March 3, 2016 - 6:37 pm

    Adoption Nutrition: Cleft Lip and Palate | - […] Read reviews of different cleft bottles and cups. […]ReplyCancel

  • April 10, 2016 - 12:06 pm

    Nicole - My 1 year old who was born with cleft palate just had surgery to repair his palate. He was drinking out of his pigeon bottle fine the first few days now he’s drinking a lot less. What bottle did you use post surgery? His Dr said using a bottle is fine.ReplyCancel

  • June 13, 2016 - 11:29 pm

    Es - Thanks so much for this post!! Was like finding gold when I came across it last week.
    We are heading to pick up our 16 month old daughter from southern China next month. She is post repair for both her cleft lip and palate and is 7 months post surgery. She has been moved to a foster family and she seems to be eating well (220mls 3 times a day, plus congee). Given the situation we have no way of working out how she is currently being fed. Any suggestions of how we should prepare ourselves? What we should buy in preparation for feeding her? To add to the already complex situation we are expats and so don’t have access to the same things as we would if we were home in Australia. So some things we may need family to bring when they come! Fun fun fun:)ReplyCancel

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