A cleft lip is an opening in the lip. A cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth. The palate is made up of two parts-the hard palate and the soft palate. The hard palate is made of bone and is towards the front of your mouth. The soft palate is made up of muscle and tissue and is towards the back of your mouth. Most people have a piece of tissue hanging down from the back of their soft palate that can be seen when you open your mouth. This is called the uvula.
A child can have a cleft lip, cleft palate, or both. Clefts can happen on only one side of the face or on both sides. A cleft can go only part way through the lip or palate or all the way through. Sometimes there is an opening in the bony part of the palate that is covered by a layer of thin tissue. You may not be able to see this opening because it is covered. This is called a submucous cleft palate. A cleft palate leaves an opening between the roof of the child's mouth and his nose.
You may also hear that your child has a craniofacial anomaly or craniofacial disorder. This means that there is a problem with your child's head and face.
Many clefts are found after the baby is born. Sometimes a cleft can be seen before birth on an ultrasound. If the cleft is not easy to see, it may not be noticed until your baby has trouble feeding. Milk may come out of her nose. Some clefts aren't found until after the child starts talking and sounds like she is talking out of her nose.
You will need to speak with your baby's doctor to determine what is best for your child. Many clefts can be fixed with surgery. Surgery can't happen right away but is done when your child is the right age and size. Some children need more than one surgery to fix the cleft over time. Many children see a team of professionals who are experts in helping families with children who have cleft lips and palates.
Will my child have trouble learning to talk? If your baby has only a cleft lip, speech problems are not likely. However, many children with cleft palate need the help of a speech-language pathologist, or SLP for short. Some may need another operation to help their speech get better. This may happen if your child's soft palate doesn't move well enough to let sounds come from his mouth. The goal is to help your child develop normal speech.
Will my baby have any hearing problems? Children with cleft palate often have a lot of middle ear problems. These may cause hearing loss. Your child should see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor and an audiologist.