In this section
Cleft lip and cleft palate describe an abnormal gap in either the upper lip or the roof of the mouth (the palate). 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 bilateral cleft.
Cleft lip and cleft palate can occur by themselves, or in some cases along with other problems. Most of the time, cleft lip or cleft palate is detected during routine scans in pregnancy.
Often the cause of a cleft lip and palate is unknown. Sometimes it can happen because there is a family history of the condition. However, sometimes a child is born with the condition when there is no family history and no known cause of the condition.
The 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 few months of life. A child with a large cleft involving the lip and palate will need several
operations. Your child's surgeon will explain your child's surgical plan to you.
Your child will usually only need to stay in hospital for one to three days for surgical procedures.
Depending on their needs, your child may need to have ongoing care from a cleft team. This might include a/an:
Your child will see the cleft team from birth until their face has finished growing (usually in their late teens).
Your child may be affected in a number of ways by a cleft lip and/or palate, and there are a number of important areas to consider in their care.
Children affected by cleft palate are more likely to have hearing problems and fluid in the middle ear.
The palate is very important in speech.
After surgery, speech therapy is usually helpful in eliminating these sounds and developing the sounds your child needs for speech.
Many children with a cleft of the lip and palate will have missing teeth, particularly in the line of the cleft.
They may also have extra teeth, misshapen or malformed teeth. Because of this, their teeth can be crowded, tilted or rotated.
For information on feeding a baby with cleft lip, palate or both, see our fact sheet
Cleft lip and palate – infant feeding.
How likely is it my child will look normal after plastic
It depends on how severe the cleft is and whether it affects the lip or palate or both. A cleft palate will have very little impact on your child's appearance. Surgery nowadays achieves excellent results with children's appearance and teeth. Cleft lip repair is always associated with a scar.
After surgery, will my child be able to speak properly?
Your child's speech pathologist will help your child to create all the sounds needed for speech, which will be easier for them once the cleft palate has been repaired through surgery.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Speech Pathology and Plastic and Maxillofacial Surgery departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed June 2018.
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