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Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate

Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate Q&A

What are cleft lip and cleft palate?

Cleft lip and cleft palate are conditions that affect the lips and mouths of many children.  Clefts are unusual openings from bones and soft tissues not forming properly, typically in early pregnancy. A split in the upper lip is called cleft lip, and an opening in the roof of the mouth is called cleft palate. Cleft lip and palate can occur on one or both sides of the lip or mouth. Babies can have a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both. 

Dr. Mehra and his team provide all necessary support your baby will need to address a cleft lip, cleft palate, or both. When possible, detecting a cleft lip or palate in the womb helps families plan for treatment needed after birth. By parternering  with top craniofacial and plastic surgeons at Advocate Children’s Hospital, Dr. Mehra and his staff help families arrange for the most up to date surgical care to repair a cleft lip and/or palate.

Dr. Mehra's comittement to collaborating with only the the most trusted specialists allows families under his care to focus on their baby,  knowing that he has long established relationships with the leading experts in the field of neonatal care. 

What causes cleft lip and cleft palate?

Why clefts form is not fully understood, though research suggests they can result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Risk factors may include:

  • Exposure to certain substances during pregnancy, including tobacco smoke, alcohol or some medications
  • Family history of cleft lip or cleft palate
  • Genetic changes inherited from one or both parents
  • Gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)

What are some of the signs of cleft lip and cleft palate? 

Signs include:

  • Split on one or both sides of the upper lip, ranging from a notch to a complete separation
  • Split on one or both sides of the roof of the mouth

In some cases, a baby may have a submucousal cleft palate, which is frequently hard to see. The split occurs in the muscles of the soft palate, with the mouth’s lining covering the cleft.  Signs and symptoms of a submucousal cleft palate include:

  • Bifid (split) uvula, a small piece of tissue that hangs in the back of the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing and feeding, with foods or liquids coming out the nose
  • Frequent ear infections

How are cleft lip and cleft palate diagnosed?

Doctors usually see cleft lip and palate before birth, often as early as 14 weeks, using 3D ultrasound.  Diagnosing a cleft lip or cleft palate prior to birth allows Dr. Mehra to help famiies coordinate care for their baby before delivery, making the post partum time less stressful for all involved.  Families may also be referred to a genetics counselor for consultation and evalutaion.   Dr. Mehra and his team will also connect families wiht feeding and oral-motor specialitsts to meet your baby's feeding needs before and after corrective surgery.  

What challenges do cleft lip and cleft palate create?

Cleft lip and palate can cause challenges because of unusual bone and tissue development in the mouth. Repairs can ease these issues but may not completely resolve them. As your child gets older, specialists at Advocate Children’s Hospital can provide ongoing care. Your child may need treatment and therapies for challenges such as:

  • Dental problems
  • Difficulty forming sounds for speech
  • Hearing loss
  • Nasal tone of voice
  • Social, behavioral and emotional issues due to difficulty coping with a cleft

What treatment options are available for cleft lip and cleft palate?

Treatment for clefts includes surgery to close the opening and improve your child’s ability to speak, eat and swallow.  Therapies to help your child eat, speak and hear well are also provided.

Surgical Treatment

We coordinate your child’s treatment with pediatric craniofacial and plastic surgeons who specialize in cleft palate and cleft lip repair.  Surgical intervention is typically recommended at specific ages:

  • Cleft lip repair from three months of age to six months
  • Cleft palate repair before age one

Some children may need surgery to place ear tubes that help prevent fluid from building up in their ears. Our pediatric ENTs (ear, nose and throat specialists) have advanced training in ear tube surgery to reduce the risk of hearing loss. At our pediatric Cleft and CraniofacialClinic, surgeons, speech-language pathologists, audiologists and other providers offer specialized surgery and therapies.

Non-Surgical Support:

Pediatric specialists at Advocate Children’s Hospital offer therapies and services that include:

  • Dental and orthodontic care for proper tooth development and alignment
  • Feeding aids such as special bottle nipples
  • Hearing aids
  • Speech-language therapy to improve speaking ability
  • Treatment for ear infections

While this is undoubetdly an overwhelming time for families facing this diagnosis,  Dr. Mehra and his team are highly experienced in supporting families and babies as they navigate the many decisions ahead.