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Cleft Lip

What is it?

  • Cleft lip is a common birth defect (problem). With cleft lip, the skin on your child's upper lip has not grown together normally. Clefts may look different from one child to another. Some clefts may only be a small notch in the pink part of the lip. Other clefts may have an opening into the floor (bottom) of the nose.
    Picture of infant with incomplete cleft lip
  • The cleft (opening) may be on one or both sides of your child's lip. If it is on one side of the lip, it is called a unilateral (u-nih-LAH-ter-al) cleft. If it is on both sides of the lip it is called a bilateral (bi-LAH-ter-al) cleft.
    Picture of baby with cleft lip

What causes cleft lip?

In many cases, caregivers do not know why cleft lip happens. Your child may be more likely to have a cleft lip if a family member had one. The cleft happens early in pregnancy, often before the mother knows she is pregnant. Medications, infections, smoking or alcohol taken during pregnancy may cause clefts.

What care will my child need?

  • Your child may have problems sucking and gaining weight because of the cleft lip. Caregivers will teach you how to use special bottles, nipples, and other supplies to feed your child. A cleft lip may be fixed with surgery. Talk with caregivers to find out when your child may have surgery. Surgery is done as early as possible. This may decrease your child's chance of having problems eating, growing, and talking. When surgery is done depends on your child's health, weight, and the kind of cleft he has. Your child may need more than one surgery as he grows.
  • Feeding problems may allow liquids to back up into your child's ear canals. This increases the chance of ear infections, which may cause long-term hearing problems. The cleft may also cause your child to have problems speaking normally. Your child may need speech therapy as he grows.


You may feel sad, ashamed, or angry because your child has a cleft lip. You may blame yourself and think you have done something wrong. These feelings are normal. There is nothing you could have done to prevent your child's cleft lip. Talk about your feelings with a caregiver or with someone close to you. Ask caregivers about support groups for parents of children with cleft lips. Such groups may help give you support and teach you more about your child's condition. You can contact the following organizations for more information:

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

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 caregivers 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.

Further information

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

Learn more about Cleft Lip

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