Hesperian Health Guides

Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate

A cleft lip (or ‘hare lip’) is an opening or gap in the upper lip, often connecting to the nostril.

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simple cleft lip double cleft lip cleft palate

A ‘cleft palate’ is an opening in the roof of the mouth connecting with the canal of the nose.

Usually 1 in about 800 children is born with a cleft lip, cleft palate, or both.

Babies with these conditions often have trouble sucking, and may choke or gag on food that gets into their nose. Usually breast feeding is the best way to feed these children.

Put the breast deep into the mouth so that the milk comes out on the back of the baby’s tongue. DVC Ch12 Page 120-4.png Occasionally the mother may need to get milk from her breasts by squeezing them, and then feed the milk to her baby with a spoon. DVC Ch12 Page 120-5.png
To prevent choking, feed the baby while he is sitting up with his head tilted forward a little. DVC Ch12 Page 120-6.png
stretching a deformed lip

To prepare for surgery, parents should frequently stretch the deformed lip, so that the 2 sides meet in the middle. Make every effort to have the defects corrected by surgery since this can greatly improve the child’s looks, eating ability, and speech. The best age for surgery is usually at 4 to 6 months for the lip and about 18 months for the palate.

Even after the cleft lip and palate have been successfully repaired, speech problems often occur. The family should gently encourage the child to speak as clearly as she can. Lip and tongue exercises may help. The child who cannot get surgery may need to learn sign language, using her hands to help people understand her.

This page was updated:21 Nov 2019