Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate Data

A birth defect is a problem that happens while the baby is developing in the mother's body.  Most birth defects happen during the first three months of pregnancy.  A birth defect may affect how the body looks, works, or both.

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Cleft lip/cleft palate is one type of birth defect.  Review the FAQs below for more information about cleft lip and cleft palate.

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What is a cleft lip?

A cleft lip is an opening in the upper lip.  The cleft may be a small slit in the lip or a large opening that goes through the lip into the nose. The cleft can occur during the early stages of pregnancy, at about 4-7 weeks when the lip is being formed. A cleft lip can be on one or both sides of the lip, or more rarely, can be in the middle. Children with a cleft lip sometimes also have a cleft palate.

Surgery to repair the cleft lip is usually done in the first few months of life, although more surgeries are sometimes needed later in life.

What is a cleft palate?

A cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth, called the palate. The palate is formed early in pregnancy, at about 6-9 weeks. A cleft palate can occur when the two sides of the palate do not come together correctly. In some children, both the hard (front) and soft (back) parts of the palate are open. In other children, only part of the palate is open.

Surgery to repair a cleft palate is usually done in the first year of life, although more surgeries are sometimes needed later in life.

What causes cleft lip or cleft palate?

It is unknown what causes cleft lip or cleft palate. Some children have a cleft lip or cleft palate because of changes in their genes. Cleft lip and cleft palate could be caused by a combination of genes and other factors.

Smoking during pregnancy is one factor that increases the chance of having a baby with a cleft lip or cleft palate. Certain medications, changes in nutrition, and other factors also may increase the chance of having a baby with a cleft lip or cleft palate.

Are cleft lip and cleft palate preventable?

There is still a lot we don’t know about how to prevent cleft lip, cleft palate, and many other birth defects. We do know that women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have a baby with a cleft lip or palate than women who do not.

What problems do children with cleft lip or cleft palate have?

Children with cleft lip or cleft palate often have problems with feeding and speech. Other problems can include many ear infections, hearing loss, and problems with their teeth.

Where can I learn more about cleft lip and cleft palate?

Last Revised: November 12, 2018