Cleft Lip: What Is It and What Are Its Consequences?

What is cleft lip and how is it treated in children? Below we'll take a look at the main aspects of this condition which mostly affects boys.
Cleft Lip: What Is It and What Are Its Consequences?

Last update: 30 July, 2018

Cleft lip is medically described as an open fissure on the upper lip. According to specialists, it happens due to the unfinished juncture of the basolateral and maxillary processes of the fetus. It occurs during the development of the facial features, between the second and third month of pregnancy.

Cleft lip occurs mostly in children with genetic predisposition, but there are also habits and factors which influence its appearance. A poor diet, smoking and alcohol intake during pregnancy are some of them. Exposure to chemical substances and the lack of vitamins, such as folic acid, can also have an influence.

In 2011, it was estimated that one out of every 750 children were born with a cleft lip. Although there are currently no certain figures about its incidence, it’s known to be one of the most common congenital malformations. It can appear either isolated or accompanied by other alterations, such as cleft palate.

Cleft lip affects mostly children with genetic predisposition, but there are also habits and factors that influence its appearance.

How can a cleft lip be corrected?

Cleft lip doesn’t affect people’s vital functions, but it represents great discouragement to families. This is due to its impact on the physical looks of the minor and the physiognomical and emotional consequences which originate from it.

Cleft lip, what is it and what are its consequences

This anomalous condition involves the formation of minor or significant fissures, that tend to expand backwards until reaching the palate or the gum. They can be unilateral or bilateral, that is, compromise one or two sides of the mouth.

Depending on the case, craniofacial surgery may be considered to correct this situation. The purpose is to enable the infant to have a normal life.

So, having an operation is recommended before the child reaches 12 months of age. According to the severity of the situation, it will be determined if one or more interventions are required.

There are doctors who advise the use of prosthesis before going to the operating room. This will close the opening and stretch the muscles in the lip. It will also give the nose uniformity and reduce the risk of suffocation during meals. Through the use of these retainers, results are said to be more favorable.

Surgery is recommended before the child reaches 12 months of age.

Who is affected by cleft lip and what are the consequences?

There isn’t enough scientific evidence to explain it, but it has been proven that boys are more prone to be affected by cleft lip. The possibilities increase if there is a precedent with the same condition, but this is not decisive.

Cleft Lip, what is it and what are its consequences

What is certain is that when a child is born with this abnormality, the probability of having a brother with the same condition goes from 2 to 8%.

It’s a good idea to look for support with a specialist in genetics in order to do a prenatal detection; this is done through three-dimensional ultrasound and other advanced methods.

Patients with cleft lip can present the following complications: 

  • Ear infections.
  • Loss of hearing.
  • Teeth malformation.
  • Breathing difficulty.
  • Problems to gain weight.
  • Delay in growth and speech.
  • Milk expulsion through the nose.

This is without taking into account the possible exclusion children can experience for being considered different. This is why treatment before schooling is fundamental. It will be most useful in preventing psychological trauma that can damage the child’s confidence and self-esteem.

Safety Measures for a Child with Cleft Lip

While the best treatment method is being determined, it’s vital to ensure the proper nutrition of the baby. Strategies to prevent food from going into the respiratory tract must be applied with the help of a specialist.

If there is no cleft palate, breastfeeding can be done without a problem. Baby bottles can be a good complement, but we must take a pause every five minutes and avoid intakes of more than half an hour.

In the same way, attention must be paid so that the milk flow is slow and soft. The nipple also has to point towards the cheek on the healthy side and not towards the throat. Once the baby has surgery, there has to be clinical control. After a few years, it may be necessary to apply speech therapies or an orthodontic treatment.

The multidisciplinary team to successfully confront cleft lip is formed by pediatricians, speech therapists and odontologists. Apart from them, there are nurses, psychotherapists, otorhinolaryngologists and rehabilitation specialists who also participate.

Prevention is imperative in these cases, mainly if there is a family history. Knowledge of this  pathology, genetics and a correct pregnancy control are essential.

Other simple actions like the intake of folic acid can make a difference, even for preventing the closure of the neural tube defects, which are much more delicate and serious.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • García, R. “et al.” (2004). Fisura palatina y labio leporino: Revisión clínica. Cirugía Pediatrica.
  • Gobierno de Navarra. (2011). Labio Leporino y Fisura Palatina. Guía para padres. Govierno de Navarra.
  • Gurkowski, M. A., & Bracken, C. A. (2010). Labio leporino y paladar hendido. In Toma de Decisiones en Anestesiología.
  • Richard J. Redett, M. (2012). Sobre El Labio Y Paladar Leporinos. Monina’s Enterprises.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.