Cleft lip in babies is a condition which affects almost 5000 babies per year around the world. Cleft lip is the most common type of birth defect that is found in babies around the world.
What is cleft lip?
Cleft lip occurs when a baby’s lip and mouth do not form properly during pregnancy. Babies develop their lips during the fourth and seventh week of pregnancy. As the baby grows, body tissues from both sides of the head grow and join to form the face. The tissues then join to form facial features like the lips, nose, mouth. A cleft lift occurs when the tissues that form the lips from both ends do not join completely together. This results in an opening in the upper lip which may look like small slit and go only till the upper lip or it may be a large slit and go up till the nose. Cleft lip can be on one or both sides of the lip or in the middle of the lip also.
Also read: Birth Defects – Causes, Solutions and Cure
Types of Cleft
The two major types of Clefts are Cleft lip and Cleft Palate. A newborn can have either one or both conditions.
A cleft lip is the opening between the lips, a slit or a disjoint and can run till the nose.
A cleft palate is a split in the roof of the mouth. If the tissues that make up the roof of the mouth do not join together completely, they form a cleft palate. This type of cleft is only limited to a part of the mouth and not both sides together.
Why do children develop cleft lip?
There is no apparent reason as to why some children develop clefts. Some factors which may play a minor role in developing such a condition are:
- A family history or genetics
- Maternal alcohol use and smoking during pregnancy
- Race- some races lie Caucasians are more prone to develop cleft lips
- Poor nutrition of the mother during pregnancy
- Women who have been diagnosed with diabetes before pregnancy have a risk of having a child with cleft lip
- Certain medicines which women might have during pregnancy to treat epilepsy might increase the chances of having a baby with cleft lip.
Why Cleft Palate and Cleft lip in babies should be treated right away
#1. Babies have difficulty in feeding
A cleft lip or cleft palate makes it very difficult for babies to suck on the breast or through a bottle. Babies need to make that sucking action by pressing the nipples against the roof of their mouth. With a cleft lip the baby will not be able to make that pressure and air and liquid will leak into their nose. Special feeding devices need to be used in order to feed such babies until they are treated.
#2. Speech problems later in life
Children who do not get treated for Cleft lip or Cleft palate develop a speech problem. They are not able to join the roofs of their mouth or the lips in speaking properly. Thus they are hardly understood by their peers, teachers or around other social groups.
#3. Children develop social and psychological problems
If not treated at the right time, children with cleft lips will develop a speech problem which will make it difficult for them to be accepted in the society. They will feel left out and withdraw in their shells when they see their peers look differently at them. It will attract unwanted attention to the child and hurt the self confidence.
If left untreated, cleft lip can cause some serious health issues like: difficulty in eating, difficulty in breathing, speech problems, hearing loss and even dental problems.
What is the cure for cleft lip in babies?
Surgery is the only cure for cleft lip. This surgery is fairly simple and the transformation is also immediate. Doctors wait 3 to 6 months before carrying out a cleft lip surgery. A cleft palate, however, is treated surgically between seven and eighteen months of age. This type of surgery is called ‘palatoplasy’. The surgery involves connecting the muscles of the soft palate and rearranging the tissues to close that slit causing the cleft lip.
Further treatments are necessary after the surgery of cleft lip in babies. This treatment includes lip revision surgery, speech therapy and sometimes dental care too.
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