Cleft Palate & Lip

By Jennie Shafer / a couple of years ago

Cleft Palate & Lip


What is it?

A cleft is an opening in the roof of the mouth that can extend to the hard and/or soft palates. It can be accompanied by a cleft lip, which is a split of the two sides of the upper lip and can extend to the jaw bone and through the nose. It is the fourth most common birth defect in the US.

A cleft palate or lip can affect tooth development, hearing, and speech quality. A special type of nipple and bottle combination can be helpful during feeding time. Many children struggle with reflux coming out the nose, or milk getting lodged in their sinuses or ear canals because there is an opening from the mouth the nose.

A cleft lip is recommended to be repaired within the first 12 months and a cleft palate within the first 18 months. Occasionally, a child will need follow up surgeries to address physical appearance.


What is it not?

It is not:

  • Indicative of intellectual disability or cognitive impairment
  • an indicator the child will not speak
  • a sign or symptom of autism 


What causes it?

A cleft palate and a cleft lip are craniofacial malformations that occur in utero if there is not enough tissue and/or if it does not join together properly. Some instances are genetic. There is research coming out saying mothers who smoke, have diabetes, or take certain types of medications for seizure disorders during the first trimester, are more likely to have a child with a cleft palate or lip.


What’s next?

If you are concerned about your child or believe he is struggling with feeding skills, reflux or weight gain, contact your primary care physician (PCP).


If a cleft palate diagnosis has been suggested or mentioned, you should absolutely ask for a Swallow Function Study and a visit to an ENT, as well as a feeding evaluation by either an Occupational therapist or a Speech therapist.


While you are in this process, continue to treat your child as you would any other. Continue to love, comfort, challenge and teach them.




About the author

Jennie Shafer

Leave a comment: