One of the most common birth defects in the U.S. is a cleft lip and palate. A cleft is an opening or split. The palate is the roof of the mouth. So a cleft lip and palate is a split or divide in the lip or the roof of the mouth or both. About one in 700 infants are born with this condition in the U.S. each year.
Everyone starts life with both a cleft lip and a cleft palate. Between the 6th and 11th weeks of pregnancy, both these clefts normally fuse closed. In some cases, either the lip or the palate or both fail to heal closed, causing the cleft we see when the child is born. A cleft lip can range from a tiny notch in the upper lip to a split that extends through the lip and into the nose. Usually, a cleft lip or palate is immediately identified at birth. A less common type of cleft palate, known as a submucous cleft, is a split at the back of the mouth that is covered by the lining of the mouth. Because the split is not clearly visible, it may not be diagnosed until later.
Complications a cleft lip or palate
The first impact of a cleft lip or palate in a newborn baby is the cosmetic appearance. But there are also several serious medical concerns for babies with clefts:
• Breathing – Malformations of the palate and jaw can make breathing difficult. In some cleft palates, the inside of the nose is open to the mouth, which allows fluids to pass between the nose and mouth.
• Feeding – An infant with a cleft lip may have trouble feeding. The cleft may cause inadequate suction, lack of an air-tight latch, or problems with fluids getting into the nose and causing difficulties with breathing. Special nipples and feeding appliances that help close the hole can help, as can more frequent burping.
• Ear infections – Babies with cleft palates may be more prone to get inner ear infections. Over time, these can cause permanent hearing damage. So it’s important to have your child regularly evaluated by an audiologist or an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor.