These days, thanks to excellent ultrasound technology, parents can find out about many birth defects or abnormalities before their child is even born. This can give you peace of mind if you learn that your child does not have any birth defects, but when you're told less-fortunate news -- like "your baby has a cleft lip" -- it can leave you in a bit of a panic. The first thing you should do is take a deep breath and relax a little. Cleft lip is a very common birth defect, and babies who are born with this condition almost always go on to live completely normal, healthy lives. Here's what you need to know to be fully prepared when your baby is born.
What is cleft lip?
Cleft lip is a birth defect in which the upper lip does not "close" properly. There will be a gap in your baby's upper lip. Sometimes this gap is very narrow, and other times, it is a wider gap that extends all of the way up to the nose. The cleft usually sits just to the right or just to the left of the center of the lip. Rarely, it can occur in the very middle of the lip.
What causes cleft lip?
Researchers are still working to understand why some babies develop cleft lips and others do not. The condition is more common in the babies of women who smoke during pregnancy or who suffer from diabetes. However, it can occur in anyone; it's important not to blame yourself for your baby's condition.
What problems does cleft lip cause?
A cleft lip can make it harder for your child to nurse. He or she may need to use a special bottle at feeding time. Speech may also be delayed, and it may be harder for your baby to make certain sounds because of the shape of his or her lip. Of course, most if not all of these issues can be avoided if the cleft lip is treated in infancy, as is recommended in the majority of cases.
How is a cleft lip treated or repaired?
In most cases, your child's doctor will recommend having the lip repaired when your baby is about a year old. The exact timing of the surgery will depend on the severity of the cleft lip and your baby's growth rate. The top lip will be closed, allowing your baby to speak and eat normally. In some cases, your child may need a followup surgery or two to enhance the results. However, once they are healed, most children only have minor scars and appear completely normal by the time they reach elementary school age.
To learn more, contact a surgeon who specializes in pediatric plastic surgery at a hospital like Shriners Hospitals for Children – Cincinnati.