American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
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Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate

What is cleft lip and cleft palate?

A cleft lip is an opening in the lip. A cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth. The palate is made up of two parts-the hard palate and the soft palate. The hard palate is made of bone and is towards the front of your mouth. The soft palate is made up of muscle and tissue and is towards the back of your mouth. Most people have a piece of tissue hanging down from the back of their soft palate that can be seen when you open your mouth. This is called the uvula.

A child can have a cleft lip, cleft palate, or both. Clefts can happen on only one side of the face or on both sides. A cleft can go only part way through the lip or palate or all the way through. Sometimes there is an opening in the bony part of the palate that is covered by a layer of thin tissue. You may not be able to see this opening because it is covered. This is called a submucous cleft palate. A cleft palate leaves an opening between the roof of the child's mouth and his nose.

You may also hear that your child has a craniofacial anomaly or craniofacial disorder. This means that there is a problem with your child's head and face.

What are the signs and symptoms of a cleft?

Many clefts are found after the baby is born. Sometimes a cleft can be seen before birth on an ultrasound. If the cleft is not easy to see, it may not be noticed until your baby has trouble feeding. Milk may come out of her nose. Some clefts aren't found until after the child starts talking and sounds like she is talking out of her nose.

How is cleft lip and cleft palate diagnosed?

Usually, but not always, the doctor will see the cleft right after the baby is born.

What treatments are available for cleft lip and cleft palate?

You will need to speak with your baby's doctor to determine what is best for your child. Many clefts can be fixed with surgery. Surgery can't happen right away but is done when your child is the right age and size. Some children need more than one surgery to fix the cleft over time. Many children see a team of professionals who are experts in helping families with children who have cleft lips and palates.

Will my child have trouble learning to talk?

If your baby has only a cleft lip, speech problems are not likely. However, many children with cleft palate need the help of a speech-language pathologist, or SLP for short. Some may need another operation to help their speech get better. This may happen if your child's soft palate doesn't move well enough to let sounds come from his mouth. The goal is to help your child develop normal speech.

Will my baby have any hearing problems?

Children with cleft palate often have a lot of middle ear problems. These may cause hearing loss. Your child should see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor and an audiologist.

What other organizations have information about cleft lip and cleft palate?

What causes clefts?

Clefts happen early in pregnancy, when the face is forming. Something happens to stop the sides of the face from coming together completely. Sometimes clefts run in families. Some clefts happen when a child has other problems, like genetic disorders. Scientists have found that there are many possible causes for clefts. Researchers are trying to discover more about these causes.

Are many children born with clefts?

Cleft lip and/or palate make up the most common birth defect in the United States. One out of every 700 newborns in the USA is affected by cleft lip and/or palate.

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What do SLPs do when working with children with cleft lips and palates?

Many families speak with a speech-language pathologist, or SLP for short, right after their baby is born to get some information on what to expect in the future. The SLP can help in many ways, depending on what your child needs. For example, the SLP can:

  • share some ideas that may help your baby if she is having trouble feeding
  • give you information about speech and language development
  • tell you what kind of games you can play with your child to help him learn
  • work with your child as a baby, a toddler, and in school, if he needs help along the way
  • work with a team of professionals to find out what treatments will be best for your child

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