In this section
Cleft lip and cleft palate describe an abnormal gap in either the upper
lip or the roof of the mouth. It occurs when some parts of the
mouth fail to join together during early pregnancy. The lip and
palate develop separately, which means it is possible for a baby to
be born with only a cleft lip, only a cleft palate, or a
combination of both.
Clefts that occur only on one side are called unilateral
clefts. When the cleft affects both sides, it is called a
We do not know what causes a cleft lip and palate. Sometimes it
can happen because there is a family history of the condition.
Perhaps someone else in the family was born with a cleft lip or
cleft palate. This is called 'familial'. However, sometimes a child is
born with the condition when there is no family history and no
known cause of the condition. This is called 'sporadic'.
Cleft lip and cleft palate can occur by themselves or in some cases
with other problems.
The amount of treatment required for a child with a cleft lip or cleft palate depends on how severe the condition is at birth.
A small cleft lip may need only one operation in the first
months of life. A child with a large cleft involving the lip and
palate will need several operations and ongoing care from the
'cleft team'. The cleft team at the RCH has a clinical nurse specialist
who coordinates care from birth through to adulthood. Our RCH team
Children with clefts see the cleft team from birth until
their face has finished growing (usually in their late teens).
There have been many improvements in surgery for children with
cleft conditions over the past 10-20 years. Today, children
usually only need to stay in hospital for one to three days for
How a cleft lip and palate affects children
Your child may be affected in a number of ways by a cleft lip
and palate and there are a number of important areas to consider in
their care, including feeding, hearing, speech and teeth.
The palate is very important in speech.
Please see our fact sheet on cleft lip and cleft palate feeding.
Key points to remember
For more information