A cleft lip and cleft palate are common birth defects that occur in the very early stages of fetal development. A cleft lip is the separation of the two sides of your child’s upper lip, appearing as a narrow or wide opening that can extend to the roof of the mouth. A cleft palate is a split or opening in the roof of your child’s mouth. These abnormalities can occur separately or together, and can vary in severity. Surgery is the only way to repair a cleft lip or cleft palate.
Problems Associated with Cleft Lip and Palate
Cleft lip and palate repair does a lot more for your child than cosmetically correcting their appearance. Surgery helps restore proper function to your child’s lips and mouth. Cleft lips and palates are also associated with health and developmental problems such as hearing loss, dental issues, and speech issues. With cleft lip and palate surgery, your child will be able to eat, drink, breathe, hear, and speak normally as they develop.
Cleft Lip Surgery
Cleft lip surgery is recommended between three and six months of age. Once your baby is under general anesthesia for the procedure, the surgeon will begin by making incisions on either side of the cleft lip to create flaps of skin. These two pieces are drawn together to close the gap of the birth defect and then sewn together with dissolvable stitches. Cleft lip surgery typically takes less than two hours. Your baby will spend the night in the hospital to make sure that they have tolerated surgery well.
Cleft Palate Surgery
Cleft palate surgery is usually performed when your child is around 12 months old. General anesthesia is used again for this type of procedure. Once your child has fallen asleep, the surgeon will make incisions on either side of the palate, loosening layers of tissue so that they can be stretched over the separation. When the tissue is placed where it needs to be, dissolvable stitches will be used to hold everything in place. Cleft palate surgery takes between two and three hours, though longer depending on the type and severity of the cleft palate. A second surgery in the future may be required to fully repair a cleft palate.
Your child will fully recover from cleft lip or palate repair in about four weeks. Due to the complexity of cleft palate surgery, recovery may take a little longer.