About one in 700 babies born in the UK have a cleft palate (also called a ‘hairlip’), a cleft lip, or both. Cleft palate means there is a split in the roof of the mouth. Cleft lip refers to a split in the upper lip. The condition isn’t harmful, but it can alarming for new mums and dads.
Cleft lips and palates can be the result of a number of factors, including genetic, but it is thought that if mums-to-be smoke or drink excessively during pregnancy, don’t get enough folic acid or take certain medicines, the chances are increased. The condition itself means that during development, the tissues in the lip or mouth don’t join up. In the case of a cleft lip, the gap will be between the upper lip and the nose. In the case of a cleft palate, the gap is in the roof of the mouth.
Sometimes a cleft palate will be spotted during your 18-20 week scan, in which case you’ll be put in touch with a specialist before birth, but a cleft lip won’t be apparent until the baby actually arrives. Cleft lip can also make breast feeding tricky and, later on, have an impact on speech, hearing and dental development.
If your baby is born with cleft lip or palate, you’ll need to be put in touch with a team of specialists who can monitor the condition as your baby grows. An operation at around three months can help repair cleft lip, and surgery in the first year can treat a cleft palate. After that it’ll depend on how severe the cleft is. For some kids with cleft palate, a bone graft at the age of 8 or 9 will help repair the jaw.
As children grow up and become more self-conscious, cleft palate can become more of an emotional issue. Even after surgery, it often remains apparent, but there are plenty of support groups around to help children come to terms with it. The Cleft Lip and Palate Association [http://www.clapa.com/] is a good place to start.
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