Cleft Lip and Palate

Many numbers of families haven’t heard of cleft lip and palate until the birth of their own child. This is one of the most common birth defects, affecting one of each seven hundred babies born. A cleft palate is a split in the roof of the mouth. While a cleft lip is a split in the upper lip; this can happen on one or two sides of the lip, creating a wider opening into the nose. These two birth defects can occur individually or together.
During the first six to twelve weeks of pregnancy the fetus face starts developing, ending with the mouth and nose. When this period of development finishes and the fetus’ face is not fully developed, then a cleft lip and/or palate is formed. This birth defect can be detected while the baby is still in the womb, letting the parents and doctors be ready for the procedures that need to be taken as soon as the baby is born.
“The first thing that has to be done is consult an specialized doctor in the subject and start asking what are the treatments that need to be done and which are the best options that medicine offers us to achieve the best outcome. Also be aware of the precautions that need to be taken. Since the baby was born with a cleft lip and palate is highly risky to tend to choke while being feed” Says Merly Arroyo, mother of a child that was born with a cleft lip and palate.

Even though all the equipment and knowledge to help babies with a cleft are known already, there is not an exact fact that explains the cause for a cleft lip and palate. Currently there are investigations going on with the purpose to better the understanding about how these abnormalities can be cause by hereditary factors.
“Researches believe that most causes of cleft lip and palate are caused by an interaction of genetic and environmental factors. In many babies, a definite cause isn’t discovered”. (Staff, 2010) Some Genetic factors can be a mother or a father passing a gene including a syndrome or part of the syndrome that can cause or includes the cleft as sign. These genetic factors can also be trigger by environmental factors like the mother being exposed to cigarette smoke, alcohol, certain medications and some virus. But after all there is yet not an accurate explanation for this common birth defect.
“Even though when it is recommendable for the mother to plan a pregnancy at a specific point where both she and the baby can benefit from the prenatal care, the lack of guardianship in a pregnancy does not necessary increases the chances of having a baby with a cleft lip and palate”. (The Cleft Palate Foundation, Pg. 3)
For experience, the families that have already been affected by a cleft should consult an specialist in genetics so they can be able to determine the possibilities that their future children, the children of their children, even the ones that were not affected by the cleft, may also be born with this birth defect.

Just like any other health condition, any type of cleft requires specialized treatments. Since each cleft is different, the procedures for each kid will depend on the type of cleft and its size. But after all, the surgeries and steps are very similar for each complication that a cleft brings. Here are the most common complications with its solutions or treatments.

Small artificial palate

  • Feeding Difficulties: Due to the cleft of the baby, it may become difficult for the baby to suck and he may gag while being feed. “Your health care team will discuss feeding strategies with you, such as using a special bottle nipple or a small artificial palate (obturator) that fits into the roof of the mouth”. (Mayo CLinic, 2010)

  • Ear Infections and hearing loss: Babies with a cleft are more affected to ear infection than kids without it, which can cause hearing loss over time if they are not treated. A way that specialist treat this complications of kids with a cleft is by doing constant checkups, and when it is time they have tubes inserted in the ears to drain fluids and help prevent any infections that they may encounter.

  • Dental Problems: sometimes the cleft may be big enough to reach the upper gum. This eventually will affect the kid’s teeth developments by making them come out incorrectly, or don’t even come out at all. As soon as the kid loses all the milk teeth, a surgery will be done. This surgery consists of taking a bone of another part of his/her body like the waist to help the teeth grow correctly. Then braces will be required.

  • Speech Difficulties: as we all know, two important tools that helps us be able speak and make certain sounds are the lips and the palate, but since they both are affected, it is hard for the person with the cleft to pronounce correctly causing speech problems. This problem can be solved through a series of surgeries conducted over time as the child grows, but most importantly by speech therapies starting when the child is learning to speak. These therapies can go on for years depending on the improvement of the speech.

  • Psychological Challenges: Some psychological challenges that a kid with a cleft can encounter are rejection from their friends, embarrassment of their physical appearance, and acceptance of their selves. All these can be overcome by going to a psychologist and as the person starts maturing.

It is common for people to ask which treatments are the best, which do they need, is there financial aid or an organization that can help, and so on. But to choose the best procedures for each case, your health care providers must consider such factors as the size of the cleft, the length of the soft palate, the environment you live in and many others. Also there are several organizations that specialize in cleft lip and palate and give financial advice too. An excellent organization which job is to go to countries all around the world and do this kind of surgeries for free is Operation Smile.

Extra information of a point a of view from some who lives with a child with a cleft lip and cleft palate:

"I personally know how it is like to live with a child born with a cleft palate and lip. It can become hard, upsetting and frustrating, but at the same time somehow inspiring. My little brother was born with both; fortunately his cleft wasn’t as big as other kids’. But after 12 years we are still going through the process of surgeries, therapies, doctors appointments about 3 times a month, and of course, some psychological issues now and then. I remember when he was younger and was starting to talk, how difficult it was to understand him, we both would get frustrated and off course this made him feel upset because he had to repeat what he was saying several times. Sometimes he would just give up and don’t say anything, but as time passed the family got use to his speech, and we could understand everything. But then the issue was at school. Since we (the family) got use to his way of talking, he did so too. This made him think that he was talking correctly and did not inspired him to try to talk better in front of others, so the speech therapies begun..." - Andrea Torres.

Work Cited
Arroyo, Merly P. Personal interview. 11 Nov. 2011.
"Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Resear, 23 Apr. 2010. Web. 8 Dec. 2011. <>.The Cleft Palate Foundation. Los Niños de Edad Escolar. Chapel Hill, NC: Kaiser Permanente, 2002. 2-3. Print.
"Cleft lip and cleft palate." River Side . Mayo Clinic, 23 Apr. 2010. Web. 13 Dec. 2011. <>.