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Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate

Cleft lip and cleft palate occur when an unborn baby’s upper lip or palate (the roof of the mouth) do not fuse together properly. These babies are born with an opening, or cleft, in the upper lip, palate or both.

Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate Treatment: Why Choose Us?

If your unborn baby has a cleft problem, doctors at the Fetal Care Center partner with specialists at the Cleft Palate and Craniofacial Institute at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

Our specialists have decades of experience. Over the years, we’ve treated more than 4,000 children with cleft problems. We are one of the Midwest’s largest and most experienced centers for the diagnosis and treatment of cleft problems.

About Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate

Cleft lips and cleft palates are among the most common birth defects in the United States, affecting approximately 1 out of every 600 newborns.

Babies born with a cleft lip, cleft palate or both may have feeding problems, which can affect weight gain and development. They also are more prone to speech delays, ear infections, hearing problems and dental issues.

Clefts affect babies in different ways. They may occur down the middle of the lip or palate, on one side or on both sides. Cleft openings may occur in:

  • Only the upper lip
  • Only the palate, or roof of the mouth
  • Both the upper lip and palate

Causes of Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate

Clefts often run in families. Some clefts occur as part of a genetic syndrome. Babies with these syndromes have other medical problems, too. Our genetic experts can discuss genetic test options and provide advice about future pregnancies.

Diagnosing Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate

Our ultrasound experts use the latest ultrasound technology to diagnose cleft problems in unborn babies. Cleft palates are more difficult to detect during pregnancy because the cleft, or opening, is inside the unborn baby’s mouth. In some cases, clefts are undetectable until after birth.

If a routine ultrasound image suggests your unborn baby has cleft lip or palate, our doctors may request a 3-D ultrasound to get a better image. Your ultrasounds take place with a maternal-fetal medicine specialist. This doctor quickly provides information about your unborn baby’s condition and treatment options. Learn more about high-risk pregnancy tests.

Treating Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate

During pregnancy, experts from the Cleft Palate and Craniofacial Institute at St. Louis Children’s Hospital discuss treatment options with you. Most babies undergo cleft lip surgery when they are 3 to 6 months old. Surgery to repair a cleft palate typically takes place when a baby is 9 to 18 months old. Your child may need additional surgeries during childhood to improve the lip’s appearance or to correct the palate and improve speech.

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University fetal care specialist at the Women & Infants Center, call 855.925.0631.