What is cleft lip and cleft palate?

Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate
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Cleft lip and cleft palate in children: Overview

Cleft lip and cleft palate are fairly common birth defects that often occur together.

Cleft lip happens when the tissues of the upper jaw and nose don't join properly as a baby develops. This causes a split (cleft) in the lip. In most cases, a cleft lip does not cause feeding problems or other health problems.

Cleft palate happens when the roof of the mouth (palate) doesn't develop normally during pregnancy. This leaves an opening that may go through to the nasal cavity. It may affect any part of the palate, including the front part of the roof of the mouth (hard palate) or the small tag of tissue that hangs down from the soft palate (uvula). Some babies with cleft palates have problems sucking and swallowing, so feeding may be a challenge.

Both of these conditions are treated with surgery. Cleft lip is repaired in the first few months of a child's life; the timing depends on how bad it is. Cleft palate is usually fixed before 12 months of age. It often takes more than one surgery. Sometimes a cleft palate needs treatment before surgery. This may include special dental splints or soft dental molding inserts.

If a cleft lip occurs with a cleft palate, it is sometimes linked with another health condition. For this reason, it's important for children to be tested for other conditions starting at birth, especially if a baby has other symptoms. Some children with cleft lips may need other tests too, such as tests for speech and hearing problems.

If your child was born with a cleft lip or palate, it's common to have concerns and feel many emotions. You may wonder how others will react. Try to focus on bonding with your baby. Remember that these conditions can be treated. Most children who have them grow up to live normal lives.

Cleft lip and cleft palate in children: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has severe trouble breathing. Signs may include the chest sinking in, using belly muscles to breathe, or nostrils flaring while your child is struggling to breathe.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has signs of needing more fluids. These signs include sunken eyes with few tears, a dry mouth with little or no spit, and little or no urine for 6 hours.
  • Your child has signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You are worried that your child's surgical scar is not healing right.
  • You are worried that your child is not hearing well.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.