A mom holding a baby with a cleft lip.
A cleft lip or palate is when the tissues making the lips or palate do no fuse together.

What Causes Cleft Lip?

About one in every 1,600 babies are born with a cleft lip. A cleft lip is a birth defect where the tissue that makes up the lip has not joined together prior to birth. This means that there is a small opening on the upper lip, which can be a very small slit or a bigger opening that extends back to the nose. But what causes clef lip?

Interestingly, many babies born with a cleft lip also have a cleft palate. A cleft palate happens when the tissue making up the roof of the mouth does not join together before birth. However, a cleft lip does not always mean you also have a cleft palate.

Additionally, if left untreated or if the problem is severe, your child may have difficulty speaking or struggle with ear infections. Yet, with modern medicine, surgery solves a lot of these problems within the first year of the child’s life. But what causes cleft lip in the first place?

Causes of a Cleft Lip

Generally, the cause is widely unknown. During the second and third months of pregnancy, the tissue making up the lips and palate of the mouth form and fuse together. With a cleft lip or cleft palate, this does not happen as it should. The fusion might only happen partway or not at all.

While a definite cause is not known, doctors speculate that genes and environmental factors might play a part in the development of a cleft lip and palate.

For instance, the parents, both mom and dad, can pass along genes, leading to a cleft lip or palate. Sometimes, it is a combination of genes and the environment. The child might have certain genes which make them more likely to have a cleft lip, but it might take an environmental factor to trigger these genes.

This might come down to what the mother eats or drinks during her pregnancy, or from prescribed medications. For instance, women who smoke, have diabetes, or take medications for epilepsy are more likely to have a baby with a cleft lip or palate.

The Treatment Process

Once a baby is born, they undergo a physical and oral exam. This oral exam is usually when your medical team discovers a cleft lip and/or palate.

Yet, there is a set treatment protocol used. However, this treatment may not take priority if other birth defects or health problems are present.

Either way, it is typical for surgery to repair the cleft lip or palate to take place within the first few months of your baby’s life. Most doctors recommend having this surgery taking place within the first 12 months, and if not then, within at least the first 18 months of life.

Usually, surgery will depend on your child’s specific situation. But usually, it involves stitching the lip or palate together. A cleft lip is usually surgically repaired within the first few months. Again, dependent on your child’s specific condition and situation, follow-up surgery may be required within a few years or as a teen.

Throughout this surgery, your child is put under anesthetic, so they do not feel a thing. Once the repair has taken place, depending on the severity, your child may need further reconstruction surgery.

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This surgery is highly recommended since it significantly increases your child’s quality of life, appearance and overall ability to lead a normal life.

In fact, by the time they are a teen or adult, usually the evidence that they ever had a cleft lip or palate is very minimal and not noticeable. Surgery also gives your child the chance to breathe and talk normally, which again contributes to a higher quality of life.

Parental Support

As a parent, you might begin thinking it is all your fault. It’s important to not go down this road and to move forward and do what is best for your child. Acknowledge your emotions and seek out support if needed, such as through a therapist or counselor.

Additionally, you are going to be the person your child will turn to for confidence and guidance. Ensure you emphasize positive traits in your child that have nothing to do with appearance and help them navigate through life as they grow up and go through school.

It’s also important to know that speech difficulties may arise, even with a repaired cleft lip or palate. Speech therapy can significantly help with this. They may also need special dental care down the line, depending on their development and growth through the years.

For the most part, many children with cleft lips and cleft palates go onto lead normal, healthy, happy and fulfilling lives. As a new parent, it might seem like everything at first. But a cleft lip or cleft palate will likely not define you or your child. The best you can do is be the very best parent you can and help build your child’s self-esteem as they grow and become more independent.