Cleft palate, a congenital defect

The birth of a child is the most beautiful thing that can happen to you. But what if not everything is fine. What if your beautiful baby has a congenital defect? For example, a cleft palate, also popularly known as cleft lip. What will happen to you and what can you expect?


Little is known about the cause of cleft palate. In fact, after the birth of your child, there is no one who can tell you where exactly things went wrong. What is known is that it happens very early in pregnancy. Somewhere between the 6th and 12th week the face is formed. The upper lip is formed from three parts that grow towards each other and must close. The upper jaw and palate are also formed during this period. If this process does not proceed completely correctly, an opening may remain in the palate, jaw and/or upper lip.
In this case one speaks of a cleft lip or cleft lip. The cause may be hereditary, or a disorder may have occurred during pregnancy. Often it is a combination of both causes . Sometimes the abnormality can be seen on the 20-week screening ultrasound that can be made in the hospital. Every pregnant woman may make use of this option, but it does not mean that any cleft palate will be noticed.

Cleft palate

Three types can be distinguished: Cheilo, gnatho and palato cleft (lip, jaw and palate).
These three often occur in combination.

Lip crack

Children with cleft palate will have to undergo many operations. Lip closure often takes place around 4 months of age. There are various surgical techniques to close the lip. The method used depends on the surgeon and the severity of the cleft lip. After this operation, the child’s appearance is often much better, although in some children several operations are required to close the lip properly.

Palate plays

The next operation will take place on the palate. This consists of a hard and a soft part and is very important in forming speech. Several methods are also used to close the palate, which again depend on the surgeon and the severity of the cleft. The palate is often closed by means of 2 operations. The soft part is then closed before the first year, and the hard part is then waited for a number of years. Nowadays there are also surgeons who choose to close the entire palate for the first year. The advantage of this is that speech can develop better. Eating and drinking is also easier after the palate is closed.

Jaw plays

Not much is done about a possible cleft jaw in the first few years. This only becomes an issue when adult teeth appear. Then it will be necessary to consider which treatment is best for the child.

Schisite team

The treatments are carried out by a so-called cleft team. This is a team of doctors (including plastic surgeon, ENT doctor, oral surgeon, speech therapist, orthodontist) who deal with cleft palate. Many checks are carried out by the entire team or a number of doctors from this team.


As a result of the cleft lip and palate, the nose may be crooked; with a one-sided, incomplete cleft lip, the abnormal position of the nose will be less serious than with a double-sided, complete cleft lip. During the first operation, the position of the nose is also examined and, if possible, this will be corrected. An operation that will probably be performed several times in the child’s life.

To feed

The severity of the abnormality varies greatly from child to child. From single-sided incomplete slits to double-sided complete slits. The consequences for a child vary as much as the severity of the abnormality. But in general it can be said that breastfeeding, for example, is very difficult or not possible at all for a baby with a cleft palate. There is a special bottle on the market, the Habermann, which makes feeding a baby with a cleft palate easier. Children with a cleft palate continue to eat at normal ages. So around 6 months you can start eating fruit and vegetables. With fruit, note that citrus fruit and kiwi, for example, can be very sour and painful when they pass through the cleft palate into the nasal cavity. It is almost inevitable that food will end up in the nasal cavity, unless the child has a plate that covers the slit. While eating and drinking, some nutrition may come out of the nose. It is amazing how easily a child with a cleft palate learns to eat.

Cleft palate and other conditions

A cleft palate can be an isolated abnormality, but it can also be accompanied by multiple abnormalities. In this case we speak of a syndrome. There are several syndromes that also include cleft palate, such as Pierre Robin sequence or 22Q11 deletion syndrome. A child with cleft palate may also have heart, ear and kidney abnormalities. It is therefore important that a child with cleft palate is properly examined physically.


Something that is not yet an issue in the first years of a child’s life, but which can occur when the child goes to school, is bullying. Your child simply looks different from other children, especially if the lip cleft was large. The baby teeth can also be crooked. All reasons to be bullied. How do you deal with this? What is important is that other children know what is going on. Ask if it is possible to explain to the class what is going on with the child and why it looks different. Understanding often leads to acceptance and that is exactly what needs to be achieved.

How further

A child with a cleft lip and palate often continues to deal with the abnormality until adulthood. Rhinoplasties, operations, braces and the like remain necessary until the child is satisfied with his appearance. Fortunately, cleft palate is an abnormality that can be easily lived with. It is not life-threatening, but it does affect your child’s appearance. Something that can sometimes cause problems, especially during puberty. Keep a close eye on your child and support them where necessary.

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