Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate

What is a Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?

These two related congenital conditions occur in developing fetuses relatively early in pregnancy. When the infant is born, they’re missing part of their lip or the roof of the mouth. This interferes with the infant’s ability to eat and cry, and may even interfere with proper breathing.

Without appropriate treatment, the child will likely grow up with a speech impediment and ongoing ear infections. The teeth will also grow in improperly, making it hard to eat for life. It’s unknown what causes most incidences of cleft lips and palates, but some risk factors include environmental toxin exposure and genetic risk factors.

What are the Symptoms of Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?

The condition presents at birth. It can be so slight that it’s barely visible as a change in the size and shape of the lip, or it can be so severe the child’s face is completely affected. The condition is often diagnosed before birth through the use of timely ultrasounds.

Symptoms include

  • Facial deformities
  • Feeding difficulties
  • Stuttering
  • Hearing loss
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Nasal congestion

Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate Causes

The causes of cleft lip and cleft palate are unknown, but there are specific traits that science links to this condition. The most common cause is genetics; newborns appear to have recurrences with parents, siblings and closely linked relatives.

The gene is passed by either a single parent or both, even though neither shows any signs of the condition. Expectant mothers carrying the gene with no sign of the syndrome themselves, could trigger the condition in the unborn child from exposure to one of the known birth defect sources.

Medicinal factors raising the risk of this defect are related to the mother’s prenatal exposure to drugs or medications treating other health conditions. Existing health issues of diabetes or obesity increase the chance of this condition developing during the first trimester of pregnancy. Lifestyle and environmental conditions, like smoking and the consumption of alcohol, affect the fetus’ development.

How is a Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate Treated?

It’s best to use surgery to correct the cleft palate or close up a cleft lip while a child is young. This ensures fast healing, allows the body to heal as it grows in the correct pattern, and learn to speak correctly from the beginning rather than having to correct an impediment. However, even older children and adults can still benefit from surgery.

The cost and difficulty of surgery rises as the patient grows older, so parents of infants with facial clefts should try to plan for immediate treatment rather than waiting. The problem does not resolve itself as the child grows.

Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate Prevention

This birth defect may not be preventable, but there are precautions to reduce the probability of the unborn child developing a cleft lip and/or cleft palate. You cannot change genetics, but you can learn about the effects your family history has on your future offspring.

Talk with your doctor and be honest about your own medical history and your lifestyle, both behaviors need to be monitored to make sure the child is born healthy. A nutritious diet to lessen the risk includes taking the proper dosage of prenatal vitamins determined by your doctor. If you are trying to conceive, be sure your immunizations are up to date before getting pregnant.

Stay healthy, avoid viral infections, diseases or bacteria that interfere with your own immune system and put the fetus at risk for developing a cleft lip and cleft palate.

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Last Reviewed:
September 18, 2016
Last Updated:
December 06, 2017