A cleft lip and/or palate (roof of the mouth) occurs when the sides of the lip and/or palate do not come together during the formation of the baby’s head and neck early in pregnancy. This incomplete development usually leaves an opening in these areas.
Clefts can occur in about one out of 600 newborn babies. Each cleft is unique in its appearance and severity. The cleft can affect the lip alone, palate alone or both the lip and palate. The cleft can occur on one side (unilateral) or both sides (bilateral) of the lip and/or palate. A cleft in the palate can affect the soft palate alone, hard palate alone or both the soft and hard palates. A cleft can affect the baby’s feeding, teeth, hearing, speech and nose.
In most cases we are not sure why a cleft occurs. However, some clefts are related to certain medications the fetus was exposed to during pregnancy. Other times, cleft formation can be due to genetic reasons.
An important part of your child’s treatment is locating a Cleft and Craniofacial Team. Several specialists are part of this team to help coordinate and treat your child over several years through your child’s development. The Cleft and Craniofacial Team at St. Mary’s Hospital is qualified and ready to take care of your child.
A cleft lip is usually repaired in the first months of your child’s life. A cleft palate is usually repaired in the first year of life. The timing of the surgeries may depend on your child’s conditions as well as the type of surgery your plastic surgeon will perform.
Other important specialists your child may need to see are feeding and speech therapists, pediatric dentists, orthodontists and prosthodontists, oral surgeons, otolaryngologists (ENT) and audiologists, and psychologists.