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Children's Health

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Cleft Lip - Topic Overview

What is cleft lip?

Cleft lip is a treatable birth defect. It happens when the tissues of the upper jaw and nose don't join as expected during fetal development. This causes a split (cleft) in the lip.

A cleft lip may be complete or incomplete camera.gif. With either type, it may involve one or both sides of the upper lip and rarely occurs in the lower lip. Cleft lip often occurs with cleft palate camera.gif. Cleft palate and cleft lip are the most common birth defects of the head and neck.

A cleft lip usually doesn't cause health problems. Surgery can be done to fix the split and improve the appearance of the mouth and nose.

What causes cleft lip?

Doctors don't know what all of the causes are. But your baby may be more likely to have a cleft lip if:

  • You use certain medicines while you're pregnant.
  • You use alcohol or illegal drugs while you're pregnant.
  • You or a household member smokes while you're pregnant.
  • You are exposed to radiation or infections while you're pregnant.
  • You or your baby's father have a family history of cleft lip.

It's important to take good care of yourself before and during your pregnancy so that your baby will be as healthy as possible.

People who have a family history of cleft lip may want to think about genetic counseling. It can help you understand your chances of having a child with a cleft lip.

What are the symptoms?

You'll notice a split in the baby's lip. It's easy to see right at birth.

A baby with a cleft lip typically doesn't have any problems feeding. But a baby who has both a cleft lip and a cleft palate may have feeding problems.

How is a cleft lip diagnosed?

A cleft lip is usually diagnosed at birth. Shortly after birth, the baby will have a physical exam. The doctor will look inside your baby's mouth to see whether there is also a cleft palate.

Sometimes a fetal ultrasound during pregnancy can detect a cleft lip. But an ultrasound doesn't always find the problem, so doctors can't always rely on it to diagnose a cleft lip.

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