Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated that each year in the United States, about 2,650 babies are born with a cleft palate; and 4,440 babies are born with a cleft lip with or without a cleft palate. Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects that occur when a baby’s lip or mouth do not form properly during pregnancy. Together, these birth defects are commonly known as “orofacial clefts.”
Discovering that your baby will be born with a cleft palate can be a scary and emotional thing for parents, and it’s natural for people to feel upset at this time. Feelings of concern, anxiety, and grief are not unusual. Your family physician and the hospital staff members will guide you to a team of specialists who can provide you and your baby with the help you will need.
What is a Cleft Palate?
The roof of the mouth (palate) is formed between the sixth and ninth weeks of pregnancy. A cleft palate happens if the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth does not join together completely during pregnancy. For some babies, both the front and back parts of the palate are open. For other babies, only part of the palate is open.
A cleft lip can usually be repaired in the first few months of life for an infant. A cleft palate can usually be repaired some months later, as the surgical procedure is a bit more involved. The exact timing of these repairs depends on the baby’s health and considerations of his or her future development, as determined by the doctor who performs the surgery.
Good news, a child born with a cleft lip or cleft palate can begin treatment pretty early to enable the restoration of as normal an appearance as possible. The early treatment minimizes the social discomfort a child born with a facial deformity may feel as they grow. Besides visual appearance alone, corrective surgery can also make eating and breathing easier for the child.
In addition to correction of lip, palate, nose and facial structures, the treatment team will work to prevent hearing and speech difficulties that may accompany such anomalies. The specialized approach to correcting deformities of the lip and palate is unique in the care and attention given to enhancing a child’s quality of life as soon as possible.