Clefting is a congenital deformity that occurs due to abnormal facial development of a baby when in its mothers’ womb. The natural structures of the baby’s lip or palate (or both) do not fuse together properly before birth, and this results in a cleft palate or a cleft lip (also known as a harelip) in newborns.
What causes cleft palate or lip?
- An estimated 1 in 700 babies could be born with this deformity which can in some cases run in families to a larger or lesser extent.
- The risk of this problem increases if certain drugs such as anticonvulsants were taken during pregnancy.
- Folic acid deficiency during the pregnancy is also known to be connected to the improper formation of certain structures in the body including clefting, spina bifida and so on.
- Certain maternal infections during pregnancy could also be responsible for clefting.
- Excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy is also known to increase risk.
The defect is important to detect and correct early on for many reasons –
- To begin with a baby may have significant trouble with feeding – forming a proper latch, swallowing and so on could be immediate problems. For this reason the defect is usually corrected as early in life as possible. In cases it may be necessary to fit a special plate in the roof of the mouth to facilitate proper feeding. Special teams are also available that could help to facilitate normal feeding of the baby.
- A cleft palate or cleft lip can cause recurrent ear infections because there is greater likelihood of fluid buildup in the middle ear. Due to this the risk of developing aspiration pneumonia increases.
- The visible deformity can have psychological and social consequences for a child and may cause significant problems with self esteem as well as social skills and behavior. However it is seen that babies who have the problem corrected early on, enjoy a happy and healthy social life.
- Clefting is troublesome not only because of the visible deformity but also because of speech development problems. Even after correction of the deformity, speech therapy may be required.
How is clefting corrected?
Usually at around three months of age, surgery is use to treat and repair the deformity in the lip. A surgery on the palate is usually done between 6 and 15 months of age. Later speech therapy could be required as well.