July is National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness Month! The Center of Disease Control (CDC) states that nearly “2,650 infants are born with cleft palate and 4,440 infants are born with a cleft lip with or without cleft palate.”  We go over everything you need to know about this birth irregularity in today’s blog!


What is Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate?

Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate are birth defects that occur when the lip or cleft does not fully form during pregnancy. During the fourth and seventh weeks of pregnancy, the lip forms. Cells and body tissue grow toward the center of the face from the sides of the head, forming the lips and mouth. If that tissue does not completely join together, it creates a Cleft Lip, which is an opening in the lip that can be on either side of the lip and can be as big as an opening up into the nose or as small as a slit. 

In the sixth to ninth weeks of pregnancy, the same way the lips are formed, the palate, or roof of the mouth is formed. When the tissue does not meet completely, the result is a Cleft Palate. This means an opening is left in the roof of the mouth.  According to the CDC, over 2,600 babies are born with a cleft palate every year, and it is important that this birth defect, as well as cleft lip, is surgically corrected within the first year of life.  


What Causes Cleft Lip or Palate?

Unfortunately, the exact cause of Cleft Lip or Palate is unknown. However, there are some factors that could contribute to the cause, like genes, environmental factors, mother’s diet and medications. Some other factors that can be attributed to causing cleft lip/palate are if the mother smokes or drinks while pregnant, has diabetes, or uses certain medications (especially medicine to treat seizures).  

It is common practice that women are encouraged to take extra vitamins when finding out they are pregnant, especially if they are lacking certain nutrients in their day-to-day diet. One of the most important vitamins to incorporate into your diet while pregnant is folic acid. Folic acid is responsible for helping your baby grow and develop, therefore when women don’t get enough, birth defects are very possible. Lastly, if anyone in your family carries the cleft lip/palate gene, you are at a higher risk of having a baby with the same birth defect. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the proper nutrients or care that you should be taking while pregnant, make sure to consult your physician.


How Does Cleft Lip/Cleft Palate Affect Your Baby?

Depending on the severity of the cleft lip or palate, it can affect a baby’s life in several different ways. In less severe cases, a cleft lip can be just a small gap in the upper lip, but in a more severe case it can be a large gap that extends from the lip and up into the nose. In regards to a cleft palate, there is a large opening on the roof of the mouth that can extend from the front to the back, or in some cases it will be one or the other. All of this can cause severe dental issues for babies, as well as make eating more of an issue. Also, it can affect hearing and cause ear infections more frequently, which in turn affects speech patterns. This is why it is very important to treat the infant sooner than later, so that they have a better chance of avoiding these life-altering health problems. 


Is it Curable? 

There are a few treatments to consider when surgery is done for a cleft palate or cleft lip, and it all depends on the severity of the conditions. Also, age plays a huge role in all of this. It is best for a cleft lip to be surgically fixed within 12 months of life, and within 18 months for a cleft palate (but the sooner the better). Surgery definitely can improve the look of the cleft, and in some cases can help with the breathing, hearing and speech patterns of the child. Some dental work may be necessary as well, but it all depends on the child and the severity of the cleft. 

In most cases, children recover well from having surgery to fix their cleft lip/palates, but it is obvious that as they get older, their self-esteem may be hindered by the possible scarring that surgery could leave behind. It is important to know that there are support groups for this reason, and as a parent it is important to instill confidence and positivity into your child’s outlook on their condition. If you have any questions or concerns, or would like to schedule an appointment, please feel free to call any of our three convenient locations.