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Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects that occur when a baby’s lip or mouth do not form properly. They happen early during pregnancy. A baby can have a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both.
A cleft lip happens if the tissue that makes up the lip does not join completely before birth. This causes an opening in the upper lip. The opening can be a small slit or a large opening that goes through the lip into the nose. It can be on one or both sides of the lip or, rarely, in the middle of the lip.
Children with a cleft lip also can have a cleft palate. The roof of the mouth is called the “palate.” With a cleft palate, the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth does not join correctly. Babies may have both the front and back parts of the palate open, or they may have only one part open.
Children with a cleft lip or a cleft palate often have problems with feeding and talking. They also might have ear infections, hearing loss, and problems with their teeth.
Often, surgery can close the lip and palate. Cleft lip surgery is usually done before age 12 months, and cleft palate surgery is done before 18 months. Many children have other complications. They may need additional surgeries, dental and orthodontic care, and speech therapy as they get older. With treatment, most children with clefts do well and lead a healthy life.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention