Caring for a Child with Cleft Palate or Cleft Lip

December 17, 2021
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Cleft lip and cleft palate are two relatively common birth defects that develop in babies. According to the CDC, thousands of babies are born each year with either a cleft lip, cleft palate, or cleft lip with cleft palate. Also called orofacial clefts, these conditions can be treated surgically but still often have ongoing care needs.

If you are a parent of a child with cleft lip and/or cleft palate, learning more about this condition, including diagnosis and care needs, can be very helpful in your long-term management approach.

What are cleft palate and cleft lip?

Orofacial clefts, particularly cleft lip and cleft palate, develop when a growing baby’s lip and/or mouth do not form properly in the womb. The lips typically begin to form somewhere between the fourth and seventh weeks of pregnancy. A cleft lip can occur when the cells that form the face from both sides of the head do not fully join together.

The cleft may be small and appear as a small dent or slit in the lip, or it can be large enough to create a full opening from the lip up to one of the nostrils. It can occur on either side of the lip, or more rarely, in the middle.

The palate, also known as the roof of the mouth, usually forms later in pregnancy, usually during the sixth to ninth weeks. Similar to a cleft lip, a cleft palate happens when the tissue that forms the roof of the mouth does not join properly. The cleft can develop in the front of the palate, the back of the palate, or both. In severe cases, the cleft can create an opening all the way to the nasal cavity.

Children born with a cleft lip or cleft palate will often have the other condition. In fact, about one in every 1,600 babies are born with both, while one in 2,800 has a cleft lip only, and one in 1,700 has a cleft palate only. The cause of these birth defects is not fully understood, but genetics, smoking, diabetes, and the use of certain medications are all suspected to be risk factors.

A cleft lip or palate can often be associated with an increased prevalence of ear infections, as well as delayed speech development and the ability to feed.

Tips for Caring for a Child with Cleft Palate or Cleft Lip

Cleft palate and cleft lip are often detected by routine ultrasound during pregnancy, but in rarer cases, they can be diagnosed later in life. Once an orofacial cleft has been identified, treatment and management will depend on the severity of the cleft, as well as other factors such as the child’s age and the presence of other syndromes.

If surgery is indicated for the cleft, surgeons will usually perform the procedure early, preferably within the first 12 months of life for a cleft lip or 18 months for a cleft palate. It is not unusual for a child to require follow-up procedures with age. The goal of surgery is to not only improve the appearance of the cleft, but to improve function such as breathing, hearing, and speech development.

Children may need other treatment for a cleft lip and/or cleft palate, in addition to surgery. This can include:

  • Specialized dental or orthodontic care
  • Speech therapy
  • Psychological and behavioral care support
  • Pediatric home care

Very often, children with a cleft lip or cleft palate are able to grow up and have a healthy and happy quality of life. Parents can help by providing a balanced, supportive, and caring environment.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care in Florida

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help. We have been enforcing precautionary measures and following the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 to ensure the safety and health of our clients and employees.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering Pediatric Home Health Care Services in Florida, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.