Birth Defect: Cleft Lip/Palate
Researchers believe that it is a combination of both genetic and environmental factors that
cause cleft lip and cleft palate. This clefting can occur due to an inherit gene from one of the parents and then
an environmental factor triggers the cleft to happen.
Common birth defects include cleft lip and cleft palate. More than 5,000 infants every year in the United States
are born with either cleft lip or cleft palate.
A cleft is an opening that occurs in the lip, the roof of the mouth (palate) or even both. When in the womb
every baby has this cleft when it is forming, but the structures are suppose to fuse together during the first 3
months of gestation.
In babies born with cleft lip or cleft palate, for some reason it only partially fuses or doesn't fuse at
Cleft lip can occur on one or on both sides of the upper lip. These defects can be associated with some 300
other genetic birth defects.
Cleft lip is correctable with surgery. The surgery will leave minimal scarring.
The physical signs of a cleft lip can be detected immediately at birth.
The cleft may be a small notch or it can extend from the lip through the upper gum and palate.
It is less common for the cleft to happen in the muscles of the soft palate only (submucous cleft). When this
happens it can sometimes not be noticed right away.
Researchers believe that it is a combination of both genetic and environmental factors that cause cleft lip and
cleft palate. This clefting can occur due to an inherit gene from one of the parents and then an environmental
factor triggers the cleft to happen.
Environmental factors may include fetal exposure to cigarette smoke, alcohol, certain medications, illicit drugs
and even certain viruses. Nutritional deficiencies in the mother before or during pregnancy may also lead to the
formation of clefts.
Congenital Birth DefectsThere are approximately 150,000 babies born every year in the United States with some kind of birth defect according to the March of Dimes. There are three causes for birth defects. Birth defects can be genetically caused, a result of something in the environment or there may be unknown causes for the defect.
Family history of cleft lip or cleft palate
Native American, Latino and also Asian descent are all backgrounds with higher risks for clefts
Males are twice as likely to have clefts than females
Environmental factors such as exposure to cigarette smoke in early fetal development, exposure to alcohol and
illicit drugs puts an unborn baby at risk
Seeking Medical Attention:
The cleft lip and cleft palate are usually physically identified at birth, and the doctor will immediately start
A submucous cleft palate is usually hidden and may not be noticed right away. If a baby has difficulty feeding,
including nasal regurgitation and excessive gassiness, the parents should seek medical attention to discover the
cause as it may be submucous cleft palate.
Speech delays and a nasal-sounding voice as well as increased nasal discharge may also be symptoms of a
submucous cleft palate that should have medical attention.