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Summit Medical Group: Thrive - July 2019
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What is Cleft Lip and Palate in Children?

Cleft lip and palate are openings or splits in the upper lip or roof of the mouth (palate). A child can be born with a cleft lip, cleft palate, or both.

A cleft lip may be as mild as a notch of the lip. Or it may be as severe as a large opening from the lip to the nose.

A cleft palate may leave an opening that goes into the nasal cavity. Cleft palate is not as noticeable as cleft lip because it is inside the mouth. The cleft may:

  • Involve one or both sides of the palate
  • Go from the front of the mouth or hard palate to the throat or soft palate
  • Include the lip

Causes and Complications

Cleft lip and cleft palate happen when a baby develops in the womb. A cleft lip and cleft palate can be diagnosed during pregnancy during a routine ultrasound exam. Or they may be seen during the first exam by your baby’s healthcare provider.

Researchers don't know the exact cause of cleft lip and palate. It can be caused by genes passed on from parents, as well as environmental factors. Environmental factors include taking certain medicines during pregnancy, smoking or drinking alcohol during pregnancy, infections, and too little vitamin B and folic acid during pregnancy. Parents who have cleft lip, cleft palate, or both, or who have other kids with the problem are at an increased risk of having babies with the defect.

Beyond the visual aspects of a cleft lip and palate, other possible complications include feeding trouble, ear infections, hearing loss, speech and language delay, and dental problems.


Both cleft lip and cleft palate can be fixed with surgery. The first surgery for cleft lip is usually done before a baby is 1 year old, but as early as possible. The first surgery for cleft palate is usually done within the first 18 months after birth, but again as early as possible.

Your baby’s healthcare provider will help you figure out how to best care for your baby. The healthcare team may also refer your child to other specialists unique to your child's condition.

Steps for Prevention

Cleft lip and cleft palate can’t always be prevented. But there are things you can do to reduce the risk. They include:

  • Getting a prepregnancy exam to make sure you are healthy before you get pregnant.
  • Getting regular and complete prenatal care during pregnancy.
  • Taking folic acid, if you are trying to get pregnant.
  • Taking daily prenatal vitamins that include folic acid during pregnancy.
  • Not smoking.
  • Not drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
Consider genetic counseling if other members of your family have had cleft lip and/or cleft palate.
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