Craniofacial birth defects

About 7,000 babies in the U.S. are born each year with a cleft lip, cleft palate or both. These conditions, along with other birth defects of the head and face, are called craniofacial birth defects. July is National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month, so we think it’s a great opportunity for people to learn more about these conditions.

A cleft lip is a birth defect in which a baby’s upper lip doesn’t form completely and has an opening in it. A cleft palate is a similar birth defect in which a baby’s palate (roof of the mouth) doesn’t form completely and has an opening in it. These birth defects are called oral clefts and happen in the first 5-7 weeks of pregnancy.
   • Cleft lip and cleft palate affects about 4,200 babies each year. It is more common in Asians and certain Native Americans.
   • Nearly 2,600 babies are born with isolated cleft palate each year. Isolated cleft palate affects babies of all races about the same.

Can other birth defects happen along with oral clefts? Yes. There are about 400 health conditions (called syndromes) that are related to oral clefts. If your baby has an oral cleft, his provider checks him thoroughly for other birth defects soon after birth.

How does clefting happen? Well for the most part, we don’t really know. Most likely a number of genes and environmental factors play a role. Some studies have shown that folic acid may help prevent oral clefts—yet another good reason to make sure you take that 400mcg of folic acid before and during your early pregnancy!

Babies born with clefts may have trouble feeding, speech problems, dental issues, and more frequent ear infections. That is why most children born with clefts are seen by a team of specialists that includes a pediatrician, a dentist, an ENT (ear, nose, and throat specialist), and a speech-language specialist, an audiologist (hearing specialist) and a genetic counselor. That team can help with any issue that may arise.

You can read lots more about oral clefts on our website (click on In Depth, and select Cleft Lip and Palate) , or visit the CDC’s website.

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