When a baby is born, instantly you see parents surveying their child. Are there 10 fingers, 10 toes? How about any birth defects? And as alarming as it may seem to many parents, babies donâ€™t always come out perfectly, and among the most common is within a babyâ€™s beautiful little face.
The Mayo Clinic website states â€œCleft lip and cleft palate are among the most common birth defects. A cleft is an opening or split in the upper lip, the roof of the mouth (palate) or both. Cleft lip and cleft palate result when developing facial structures in an unborn baby don’t close completely.â€
You might feel upset when you first see your baby’s cleft, but cleft lip and cleft palate can be corrected. In most babies, a series of surgeries can restore normal function and achieve a more normal appearance with minimal scarring.
A baby’s face and skull form during the first two months in the womb. Normally, the tissues that make up the lip and palate fuse together. But in babies with cleft lip or cleft palate, the fusion never takes place or occurs only partially, leaving an opening (cleft).
Researchers believe that most cases of cleft lip and cleft palate are caused by an interaction of genetic and environmental factors. In many babies, a definite cause isn’t discovered. Cleft lip and cleft palate commonly occur as isolated birth defects, but are also associated with many genetic conditions.
Either the mother or the father can pass on genes that cause clefting, either as an isolated defect or as part of a syndrome that includes clefting as one of its signs. In some cases, babies inherit a gene that makes them more likely to develop a cleft, and then an environmental trigger actually causes the cleft to occur.
Fetal exposure to cigarette smoke, alcohol, certain medications, illicit drugs and certain viruses have also been linked to the development of a cleft.
Treatment of cleft lip and cleft palate requires a comprehensive plan from birth to adulthood, as reconstruction often involves a series of operations as the child grows. A health care team that specializes in cleft lip and cleft palate is ideal because the condition often affects other areas of a child’s health.
The goals of treatment are to ensure the child’s ability to eat, speak, hear and breathe and to achieve a normal facial appearance. Treatment involves surgery to repair the defect and therapies to improve any related conditions.
Surgery to correct cleft lip and palate is based on your child’s particular defect. Following the initial cleft repair, your doctor may recommend follow-up surgeries to improve speech or improve the appearance of the lip and nose.
For children with cleft palate, ear tubes also may be placed during the first surgery to ventilate the middle ear and prevent hearing loss. Your doctor will determine the optimal timing for all needed surgeries.
The Food and Drug Administration is warning women of child-bearing age that the epilepsy drug Topamax can increase the risk of birth defects around the mouth.
Regulators said that data collected from a registry of pregnant women showed a higher rate of cleft lip and cleft palate in babies whose mothers were taking the drug during the first trimester. Infants who were exposed to the drug had a 1.4 percent rate of mouth defects, which was more than three times greater than that seen with other seizure medications. The frequency of the defects in mothers not taking any epilepsy medication is .07 percent.