Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate is a facial abnormality that occurs during the early stages of pregnancy while the face is forming. Clefts are the third most common birth defect and affects around 1 in 600 – 700 babies born in Australia. A cleft is a gap in the roof of the mouth (hard and/or soft palate) or the lip and gum line (alveolus). Children can have a cleft lip without a cleft palate, or a cleft palate without a cleft lip. Some children have a cleft of both the lip and the palate. Clefts are described as being unilateral (on one side) or bilateral (on both sides) of the midline. They are often diagnosed on ultrasound during pregnancy. A cleft palate alone is usually only detected after birth.

The cause of clefts is not clear. It is thought to be caused by a number of interrelated factors in the baby and the parents. They may be:

* Environmental Factors

* Stress

* Vitamin or Mineral deficiencies

* Genetic factors

* Some medications

Clefts are thought to be caused by anything that may interrupt the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the foetus even momentarily. Many parents blame themselves for their child’s condition. It is important to know that the cause is not clear, and there is no benefit to either the parent or child to blame yourself.

Your baby’s lip will be surgically closed at about 3-6 months of age and the palate at about 6-12 months. Your baby’s surgeon will see him/her regularly as he grows. In the early years other specialists may be involved. Most children will see an orthodontist, a speech pathologist and an ear/nose/throat specialist. Each cleft is different, and each child’s needs are different.  All specialist appointments, surgery and dental treatments are covered free of charge by Medicare.