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Frequently Asked Questions #1

What is a Cleft Lip?

The lip forms between the fourth and seventh weeks of pregnancy. As a baby develops during pregnancy, body tissue and special cells from each side of the head grow toward the center of the face and join together to make the face. This joining of tissue forms the facial features, like the lips and mouth. A cleft lip happens if the tissue that makes up the lip does not join completely before birth. This results in an opening in the upper lip. The opening in the lip can be a small slit or it can be a large opening that goes through the lip into the nose. A cleft lip can be on one or both sides of the lip or in the middle of the lip, which occurs very rarely. Children with a cleft lip can have a cleft palate as well but not in every case.

​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.

What causes a Cleft?

The causes of a cleft lip and palate among most infants are unknown. Some children have a cleft lip or cleft palate because of changes in their genes. Cleft lip and cleft palate are thought to be caused by a combination of genes and other factors, such as things the mother comes in contact with in her environment, or what the mother eats or drinks, or certain medications she uses during pregnancy. Recent studies have shown that mothers who smoke, have diabetes or use certain medicines have an increased chance of having a baby with a Cleft lip and palate.

How early in pregnancy can I find out that my child has a Cleft?

Orofacial clefts, especially cleft lip with or without cleft palate, can be diagnosed during pregnancy by a routine ultrasound. They can also be diagnosed after the baby is born, especially cleft palate. However, sometimes certain types of cleft palate (for example, submucous cleft palate and bifid uvula) might not be diagnosed until later in life.

How often is a baby born with a Cleft?

1 in every 600 births in the world and 1 in every 700 births in the United States. Cleft Lip and Palate is actually the most common birth defect in the United States.

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