My child has cleft lip and palate – what now?


My child has cleft lip and palate – what now?

October 20, 2020 5:21 pm Published by

If your child is born with a cleft lip or palate, it can feel like bit of a shock. However, there’s no need to be overly stressed. With the right medical attention, the condition can be treated early on in life, and your baby can go on to live a happy and fulfilling childhood.

What is cleft lip and palate?

A cleft lip is a split or opening in the upper lip. It happens in a very specific time during pregnancy, when the baby’s face is forming – between the fourth and seventh weeks. If the tissues that form the lips and mouth don’t properly fuse together at the front, then a cleft lip can occur. It could just be a gap on one side, known as unilateral, or gaps on both sides of the lip, called bilateral – and it might be small, or it might reach to the nose.

A cleft palate happens when the mouth roof – which is formed between the sixth and ninth weeks – don’t fuse together. This might be just partially along the roof of the mouth, or the whole way across. Formally called orofacial clefts, there’s an estimated 1 in every 1600 babies born with cleft lip and palate in the US every year.

When does it happen?

A cleft lip and palate might be spotted during an ultrasound, or more likely when baby is born, though some types may not be spotted until later on in life. It might not need surgery, depending on how severe it is – for example, if it is causing speech problems or not.

Babies with a cleft lip and palate can have feeding problems, and it can also affect hearing and the development of teeth. Babies with the condition are also more likely to develop ear infections. If it’s not treated, children can also have speech problems later on – as well as potential social issues from its very visual nature.

What causes cleft lip and palate?

The specific causes are unknown, but there are a number of risk factors influencing whether a baby develops cleft lip and palate. Medics believe it’s a combination of these external, environmental factors, and genetics. If a cleft lip and palate runs in your family, then it is more likely that your child could have it also. However, it’s important to know that cleft lip and palate is likely to be a ‘one off’ – the risk of having another child with the condition is slightly raised, but there’s still a pretty small chance that it will happen again.

Smoking, having diabetes, and some medicines taken during pregnancy such as steroids, can all increase the chances of cleft lip and palate developing. Drinking alcohol also increases the likelihood, and it’s also thought that excess weight might influence it too. So – it’s very important to be as healthy as possible during pregnancy. It’s usually recommended to take extra vitamins– as a lack of folic acid has also been linked to it. However, it’s best to talk your doctor about it, before taking anything new.

How can cleft lip and palate be treated?

Cleft lip and palate can feel worrying – but it can be corrected, and modern surgeries leave minimal scarring that will fade even more over time. Cleft lip normally is operated on between three to six months of age, and cleft palate from six months to one year, or maybe 18 months. Feeding problems, speech problems, and any other issues will all improve after surgery.

For dental health, it’s a good idea to keep up regular six-monthly appointments with your pediatric dental clinic at Drs. Nicolas & Asp, so they can help with good dental hygiene and any orthodontic treatment that might be needed.

In short – cleft lip and palate is very treatable. But the sooner it is treated, the better it will be for your child. Once treated – your child is very likely to go and live a completely normal life!

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