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Health Information For Parents
A cleft palate (PAL-it) is when a baby is born with an opening (a cleft) in the roof of the mouth. This leaves a hole between the nose and the mouth.
The opening can:
Sometimes the opening in the palate can connect with an opening in the gums and the lip (cleft lip and palate). These orofacial clefts are some of the most common birth defects. Most kids can have surgery to repair them early in life.
A baby with a cleft might have:
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 palate happens when parts of the roof of the mouth do not fuse together completely.
Doctors don’t always know why a baby develops a cleft, though some clefts may be related to genetic (inherited) factors. Also, some environmental factors can increase the risk of a birth defect, such as:
Newborns have an oral exam soon after they’re born. Doctors usually find a cleft palate when they examine the inside of a baby’s mouth during this exam.
A cleft palate usually is repaired with surgery called palatoplasty (PAL-eh-tuh-plass-tee) when the baby is 10–12 months old. The goals of palatoplasty are to:
In this surgery, a plastic surgeon will:
This surgery requires general anesthesia and takes about 2–3 hours. Most babies can go home after 1 or 2 days in the hospital. The stitches will dissolve on their own.
Your child will need a liquid diet for a week or two, then will eat soft foods for several more weeks before going back to a regular diet. You may be asked to keep your baby in special sleeves (“no-nos”) that prevent the elbows from bending. This is so your baby can’t put any fingers or hard objects into the mouth, which could make the cleft palate repair come open.
Cleft palate surgery has greatly improved in recent years. Most kids who undergo it have very good results. There are risks with any surgery, though, so call the doctor if your child:
A child with a cleft palate can sometimes have other health problems, such as:
It’s important to work with a care team experienced in treating children with cleft lip and palate. Besides the pediatrician, a child’s treatment team will include:
You might also work with:
Some kids with cleft palate may need other surgeries as they get older. These might include:
Most kids with cleft palate 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:
A cleft lip is when a baby’s lip doesn’t form properly during pregnancy. Most kids can have surgery to repair one early in life.
A cleft palate with a cleft lip is when a baby’s lip and palate (roof of mouth) don’t form properly during pregnancy. Most kids with cleft lip and palate are treated successfully with no lasting problems.
Some birth defects are minor and cause no problems; others cause major disabilities. Learn about the different types of birth defects, and how to help prevent them.
You might visit a speech therapist if you’re having trouble speaking or understanding others. Find out more in this article for kids.
Here are the basics about how to care for your child’s teeth – and when.
Ear infections are common among kids and, often, painful. Find out what causes them and how they’re treated.
Lots of images may come to mind when you think of plastic surgery. This special type of surgery involves a person’s appearance and ability to function.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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