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Cleft Palate - Topic Overview

What is cleft palate?

Cleft palate camera.gif is a treatable birth defect. It happens when the roof of the baby's mouth (palate) doesn't develop normally during pregnancy, leaving an opening (cleft) in the palate that may go through to the nasal cavity. A cleft can form on any part of the palate, including the front part of the roof of the mouth (hard palate) or the small flap of tissue that hangs down from the soft palate (uvula). It may appear by itself or along with other birth defects of the face and skull, such as a cleft lip camera.gif.

Cleft palate and cleft lip are the most common birth defects of the head and neck. Until a cleft palate is treated with surgery, it can cause problems with feeding, speech, and hearing.

What causes cleft palate?

Doctors aren't sure what causes it. But your baby may be more likely to have cleft palate if you:

  • Use certain medicines while you're pregnant.
  • Use alcohol or illegal drugs while you're pregnant.
  • Smoke while you're pregnant.
  • Are exposed to radiation or infections while you're pregnant.
  • Have a family history of cleft palate.

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

If someone in your family was born with a cleft palate, you may want to think about genetic counseling. It can help you understand your chances of having a child with a cleft palate.

What are the symptoms?

Some forms of cleft palate are easy to see when the child is born. But even if the cleft palate doesn't affect how the baby’s face looks, it can usually be seen inside the mouth.

The location of the cleft matters more than how it looks. A small cleft in the soft palate may cause more problems—because of its effect on speech—than a large cleft that is easy to see.

Babies with cleft palate often have feeding problems because they aren't able to suck and swallow normally. But this doesn't always last, especially with treatment.

How is cleft palate diagnosed?

A doctor can diagnose cleft palate by doing a physical exam of the baby’s mouth shortly after birth.

Fetal ultrasound can sometimes find cleft palate as early as 14 to 16 weeks into pregnancy, especially if the cleft palate is severe and occurs along with a cleft lip. But ultrasound doesn't always find the problem, so doctors don't rely on it to diagnose cleft palate.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 19, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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