Cleft lip – why the first few years are crucial for your child to heal completely

One of the most common complications that a baby can suffer while still developing inside the mother’s womb is a cleft lip. A cleft lip and cleft palate usually go alongside. These are facial and oral malformations that occur very early in pregnancy.

Physically, a cleft lip looks like a split or separation on the two sides of the upper lip. When there is not enough tissue in the mouth or lip area, and the tissue that is available does not fuse properly, clefting happens. A cleft palate, on the other hand, is a split or an opening in the roof of the mouth.

Causes of cleft lip and cleft palate

The exact cause of a cleft lip and cleft palate is still unknown, which is why these conditions cannot be prevented. However, there are some reasons why a cleft might happen:

  • Genetic factors: If the parent, sibling or relative has suffered from cleft lip and cleft palate, chances increase for clefting.
  • Environmental reasons: This entails exposure to certain radiations, viruses or chemicals while the fetus is still growing.
  • Medication: Certain kinds of medications that a pregnant woman takes might make the baby vulnerable to a cleft lip.


A cleft lip may be detected using ultrasound sometime around the 13th week of pregnancy. The doctor can diagnose a cleft lip judging by the differences in facial structures of the fetus. Other than that, no special tests for diagnosis are required.

How is a cleft lip treated?

A cleft lip repair is usually done surgically where a surgeon makes incisions on both sides of the cleft to create the extra tissue. These flaps of tissues are then stitched together to give the same structure and function as that of a normal lip. Additional surgeries may be needed to improve the appearance of the mouth, lip, and nose.

Due to a number of oral health and other medical problems associated with a cleft lip, a team of doctors is usually involved to treat these children. Cleft lip is generally tackled with a couple of surgeries, but a cleft palate might require a number of surgeries over the years. The initial surgery to cure a cleft lip is usually performed once a baby is three months old.

What is the outlook for children with a cleft lip?

The first few years for children who have a cleft lip and palate are crucial. This is the period when they are developing, and in the hands of the right doctors, a cleft lip can be done away for good with the child achieving normal appearance, speech and eating patterns.

According to studies, cleft lip with/without cleft palate affects 1 in 700 babies annually. Children of Asian, Latino, or Native American descent have reported more cases of clefts than others, and compared to girls, twice as many boys are susceptible to a cleft lip!

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