During the first counselling after the birth of a child with cleft lip and palate (CLP) information about the malformation should be delivered and a long-standing relationship between the cleft team and the affected family must be established. The present study was conducted to evaluate the parents' experiences, needs and expectations with this first consultation. A questionnaire was sent to 105 parents at the cleft clinic, which could be answered anonymously. It collected demographic data, data on the parents' pre-existing level of information and the parents' assessment of the counselling at the cleft centre. Seventy percent of the questionnaires were returned. In 16% the clefts were diagnosed prenatally, in 32% there were relatives with clefts. Seventy-one percent of the parents received detailed counselling, 89% of which occurred in the first week. The parents requested that information about surgery (80%), feeding the child (63%) and the aetiology of clefts (44%) should be given. The quality of the consultation was rated very good or good by 87% of families. This study confirms the importance of initial counselling for CLP. The exceptional psychological situation of the family has to be considered and a close collaboration between cleft centre and maternity hospitals is mandatory.