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Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

What are cleft lip and cleft palate?

A cleft lip is a condition that causes an opening or split in your child's upper lip. A cleft palate is in the roof of your child's mouth. Your child may have a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both. Cleft lip and cleft palate are types of birth defects. They happen when your child's lip or the roof of the mouth do not grow normally during pregnancy. A cleft happens early in pregnancy as your child's facial bones form. Your child may be more likely to have a cleft if a family member had one. Medicines, viral infections, smoking, or drinking alcohol during pregnancy may also increase your child's risk.

What are the signs and symptoms of cleft lip or cleft palate?

  • A split on one or both sides of your child's upper lip
  • A small notch in the lip or a wide opening from the top lip to the nose
  • A hole in the roof of the mouth
  • A split uvula (tissue hanging down in the back of your child's throat)

How is a cleft lip or cleft palate diagnosed?

Your baby's healthcare provider will be able to see a cleft lip as soon as your baby is born. The provider will check inside your baby's mouth for a cleft palate. A cleft lip or palate may also be seen on an ultrasound while your baby is still in the uterus.

How are cleft lip and cleft palate treated?

Cleft lip and cleft palate repair is surgery to close the openings in your child's lip or mouth. A cleft lip may be repaired when your child is 3 to 6 months old. A cleft palate can be repaired at 9 to 12 months of age.

Cleft Palate Repair

How do I feed my child?

Feeding your child can be difficult. Try to be calm and patient. This will help your child relax as he or she eats. Teach others how to feed your child. This will give you support and help you manage stress. The following tips will help you feed your child:

  • Breastfeeding helps your child suck better because your breast fills the cleft. Breastfeeding also decreases your child's risk of ear infections and helps strengthen the muscles he or she uses to eat.
  • Your child may need to use a bottle if he or she cannot breastfeed. Healthcare providers will work with you to find the best bottles, nipples, and other supplies to feed your child. Ask providers about bottles and nipples made for children who have a cleft. If you cannot find these supplies, look for nipples with wide openings or a cross cut into the nipple. These nipples will help your child get more milk with each suck. You can also use squeeze bottles to help get the milk into your child's mouth. These supplies may help decrease your child's risk of choking.
  • Feed your child in an upright position. His or her head should be higher than the stomach. This will help prevent choking. It will also help keep liquids from coming out of your child's nose or going into his or her ears.
  • Feed your child slowly over 18 to 30 minutes. Burp him or her after every 1 to 2 ounces of liquid to decrease the amount of air swallowed.
  • Do not overfeed your baby. Look for signs that your baby is done feeding. Your baby may look around instead of watching you. He or she may chew on the nipple rather than sucking on it. He or she may also cry and try to wriggle away.
  • Do not lay your child down with a bottle. This may increase the risk of choking, ear infections, and cavities.

How can I manage my child's cleft lip or cleft palate?

  • Speech and nutrition therapy may be needed. A dietitian can help you choose the best foods for your child.
  • Gently clean the cleft after each feeding. Use water and a cotton swab.
  • As your child gets older, involve him or her in care decisions. He or she may have a scar after surgery. As an adolescent, he or she may start talking about wanting the scar revised or smoothed. Your child may also feel self-conscious about the way he or she talks or looks. Listen to your child. Help him or her develop a healthy self-esteem.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • Cleft Palate Foundation
    1504 E. Franklin St, Ste. 102
    Chapel Hill , North Carolina 27514-2820
    Phone: 1- 919 - 933-9044
    Web Address:

When should I call my baby's doctor?

  • Your child will not eat or drink.
  • Your child cries without tears.
  • Your child's lips, mouth, and tongue are dry.
  • Your child's eyes look sunken in.
  • Your baby's fontanelle (soft spot on the top of the head) is sunken.
  • Your child urinates small amounts or none at all.
  • You feel overwhelmed and need help to feed your child.
  • Your child does not eat as well as usual.
  • Your child acts tired, sleepy, restless, or fussy.
  • Your child has a fever, ear pain, and trouble hearing.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.