Cleft Palate

What is a Cleft Palate?

A cleft palate or a cleft lip/palate are birth defects where the lip and/or palate do not fully close during early pregnancy, and varies widely in severity. A cleft lip can appear as a simple notch in a child’s upper lip, or the opening can extend from the lip to the base of the nostrils.

Causes of Cleft Palate

In normal development, the formation of a baby’s lip will close by about 5 to 6 weeks after conception, and the palate will close at about 10 weeks after conception. In babies with various genetic conditions or possibly environmental situations, the lip and/or palate do not fully close. The defects can result in a cleft (separated) lip/palate or an isolated cleft palate. A cleft lip/palate occurs more often than the isolated cleft palate.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for these birth defects include:

  • Race – Cleft lip/palate occurs more frequently among Asians and some groups of Native Americans. Risk for isolated cleft palate appears similar in all racial groups.
  • Gender – Cleft lip/palate occurs more frequently in males, but isolated cleft palate occurs more frequently in females.
  • Genetics – There are numerous genetic conditions where indicators include cleft lip/palate or cleft palate.
  • Smoking – Some studies have shown a link between maternal smoking and development of these birth defects.
  • Medication – Some drugs such as antiseizure medications could contribute to this birth defect.
  • Mother’s health – Maternal illness or infection may be linked,as well as a deficiency of folic acid.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse – Studies also suggest a link between maternal drug and alcohol use and the occurrence of cleft lip and/or palate.

Preventing Birth Defects

Although the exact cause of a cleft palate or cleft lip/palate is unknown, we do know that there are things women can do to help prevent birth defects in their unborn children, including:

  • Take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid prior to conception and during pregnancy (especially the first trimester)
  • Stop smoking
  • Avoid alcohol prior to and during pregnancy
  • Check with your doctor prior to becoming pregnant that any medications that you’re taking are safe to take during pregnancy

Learn more about the affects of cleft palate and treatment options.

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