Physical Impairments at Birth

Cleft Lip or Cleft Palate

Cleft lip and cleft palate are conditions, present at birth, that affect the upper lip and the hard and soft palate of the mouth. The "cleft" can range from a small notch in the lip to a large groove or separation that affects the roof of the mouth and the nose. Cleft lip and palate usually occur together, but a baby can have a cleft palate without having a cleft lip. Cleft lip/palate occurs in about one in every 1,000 babies (though some races are more prone to it than others), and cleft palate alone occurs in approximately one in every 2,000 babies. Up to 13 percent of babies with cleft palate have other birth defects as well, reports the March of Dimes. For that reason, babies with this condition should be carefully examined by a doctor soon after birth.

Diagnosis: Doctors can diagnosis cleft palate and/or cleft lip by examining a child's mouth, nose, and palate. According to the National Institutes of Health, other symptoms include:

  • Separation of the lip alone
  • Separation of the palate
  • Separation of the lip and palate
  • Varying amounts of nasal distortion
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Failure to gain weight
  • Nasal regurgitations during bottle feeding
  • Growth retardation
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Poor speech
  • Feeding problems

Treatment: Surgery is required to close a cleft palate and/or lip. The surgery usually takes place within the first year of life. Follow-up with a speech therapist and orthodontist over the course of several years is often needed, but most children can ultimately gain normal appearance, eating, and speech.

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