on one side of the lip (a unilateral cleft lip). This type is
on both sides of the lip (a bilateral cleft lip)
Clefts can range in size:
Some are just a small notch in the lip (an incomplete cleft lip).
Others extend from the lip through the upper gum and into the nostril (a complete
cleft lip). This can make the baby's nose look wider and shorter than normal,
especially when there are clefts on both sides of the lip.
What Causes Cleft Lip?
During the first 6
to 10 weeks of pregnancy, the bones and skin of a baby's upper jaw, nose, and
mouth normally come together (fuse) to form the roof of the mouth and the upper lip.
A cleft lip happens when parts of the upper lip and/or gum do not fuse together completely.
Doctors don't always know why a baby develops a cleft lip, though some clefts may
be related to genetic (inherited) factors. Also, some environmental factors can increase
the risk of a birth defect, such as:
taking certain medicines (such as some anti-seizure medicines) during pregnancy
Usually, cleft lip is found when a baby is born. Sometimes, it's seen on a prenatal
Cleft lip can be associated with feeding problems. Later in life, it may lead to
dental problems, speech problems, and even issues with self-esteem
and social interactions. So it's important to correct a cleft lip with surgery while
a child is young.
How Is a Cleft Lip Treated?
Most babies who have a cleft lip have a surgery called cheiloplasty (KY-lo-plass-tee)
to repair it when they're about 3 months old. This is done in the hospital while the
baby is under general anesthesia.
The goals of cleft lip repair are to:
Close the cleft.
Create a more normal shape and contour of the upper lip and nose.
If the cleft lip is wide, special procedures like lip adhesion or nasal alveolar
molding (NAM) might help bring the parts of the lip closer together and improve the
shape of the nose before the cleft lip repair. Cleft lip repair usually leaves a small
scar under the nose.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Cleft lip repair and other surgeries to help kids born with a cleft lip have greatly
improved in recent years. Most kids who undergo them have very good results. There
are risks with any surgery, though, so call the doctor if your child:
Some children with cleft lip may need more surgeries as they get older. These might
Alveolar (al-VEE-eh-lur) bone grafting: Doctors
might use a small amount of bone from the hip to repair the cleft or notch in the
gums and to support the permanent teeth as they come in. This surgery is usually done
when kids are 7–9 years old.
Nose surgery: Clefts of the lip also affect how the nose
looks, so some kids may benefit from more surgery on the nose. Fixing minor problems,
such as the shape of the nostrils, can be done during childhood. More extensive nose
surgeries, if needed, are done when the child is finished growing.
Orthognathic (or-thig-NATH-ik) surgery: Some
children with cleft palate need this surgery to realign the jaws and teeth when they're
older. It's done when the child is finished growing.
Most kids with cleft lip are treated successfully with no lasting problems. A team
experienced in treating children with cleft lip and palate can create a treatment
plan tailored to your child's needs.
The psychologists and social workers on the treatment team are there for you and
your child. So turn to them to help guide you through any hard times. You also can
find more information and support online: