American Society of Plastic Surgeons
For Medical Professionals

What is Cleft Lip, Cleft Palate and their Repair?

Cleft lip (cheiloschisis) and cleft palate (palatoschisis) are among the most common birth defects affecting children in North America. The incomplete formation of the upper lip (cleft lip) or roof of the mouth (cleft palate) can occur individually or both defects may occur together. The conditions can vary in severity and may involve one or both sides of the face.

A cleft, or separation of the upper lip and/or the roof of the mouth, occurs very early in the development of your unborn child. During fetal development, certain components of the upper lip and roof of the mouth fail to form normally. Cleft lip and cleft palate surgery corrects this abnormal development both to restore function and normal appearance. Most clefts can be repaired through specialized plastic surgery techniques, improving your child's ability to eat, speak, hear, and breathe.

Early intervention by a team of specialists to evaluate your child is essential in cleft lip and/or cleft palate repair. The team will work together to define a course of treatment, including surgical repair of the cleft, speech rehabilitation and dental restoration.

These specialists may include a:

  • Auditory or hearing specialist
  • Genetic counselor
  • Otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist)
  • Pediatric dentist
  • Pediatrician
  • Plastic surgeon
  • Social worker
  • Speech pathologist

When should my child have the surgery?
The timing of the cleft repairs depends on the individual circumstances of your child. Surgery is best performed when the child is generally healthy, gaining weight and thriving. Cleft lip repairs are initially performed when a child is at least ten weeks of age, ten pounds in weight, and has a hemoglobin (or blood count) of at least ten. Cleft palate repairs are generally performed when a child is somewhat older, from six to 18 months of age.


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