Questions about cleft lip and cleft palate

A "cleft lip" is an opening in the lip, while a "cleft palate" is an opening in the palate — the roof of the mouth. Both conditions occur because of incomplete development as a fetus or infant grows.

On average, one in 700 babies is born with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate. Incomplete development of the mouth is one of the most common problems found in newborn babies.

We do not know exactly why your baby has a cleft. Sometimes a geneticist, a physician who specializes in heredity, can determine contributing causes.

A cleft lip can be surgically closed within the first few months of an infant's life. The palate is usually surgically closed about a year later. Because the best time depends on the baby's health, surgeons determine when to perform procedures on a case-by-case basis.

Your child may need some special assistance to eat at first, but with proper guidance, he or she should be able to eat normally. Your pediatrician, nurse and other medical specialists can help you with special feeding techniques if needed.

Yes, although your child may require the care of dentists and orthodontists at a later age.

Many children with clefts develop speech normally and have no problems speaking. Others may need the help of a speech pathologist. You child's speech development will be regularly monitored, so intervention can begin at the appropriate time if necessary.

Health insurance can pay for all or part of the necessary care. Additional financial assistance may be available from an agency in your state. Your doctor or team coordinator can provide helpful information.

Questions about craniofacial anomalies

A craniofacial anomaly is any physical abnormality of the head, face or neck. Such conditions, which usually result from incomplete development, may be isolated, or they may accompany a group of other problems (called an association, sequence or syndrome).

Figures vary for different disorders, but craniofacial problems are uncommon. A geneticist can tell you about the hereditary nature of your child's type of disorder.

Individual craniofacial problems occur for different reasons, some of which remain mysterious. A geneticist — a physician who specializes in heredity — can determine contributing causes in some cases, and may be able to predict the likelihood of recurrence in subsequent births. Please be assured that the craniofacial anomaly did not occur because you, as a parent, did something wrong.

Many, but not all, anomalies can be treated through surgery. Timing of the surgery will depend on the nature of problem as well as on the child's growth, development and general health. Certain cases may require other medical intervention, including therapy and continued guidance. A team of Children's Hospital specialists can help determine your child's short- and long-term needs and can coordinate necessary care.

Health insurance can pay for all or part of the necessary care. Additional financial assistance may be available from an agency in your state. Ask your doctor or team coordinator for information.