A cleft lip and palate occurs when some of the lip and/or palate does not join up properly before birth. This occurs in about 1 in 800 babies born in Australia.

The word ‘cleft’ means split or fissure. A cleft lip can be as small as a notch in the lip or it may be more pronounced with a gap on both sides of the lip extending completely to the nose (bilateral complete cleft lip). A cleft palate is a split in the roof of the mouth. This may be a small whole in the roof of the mouth or it may be completely separated. Sometimes a cleft palate is not visible and may be covered by a layer of mucosa. This is called a submucous cleft palate is generally diagnosed between 3 and 5 years old when a child’s speech sounds hypernasal

Babies born with a cleft lip and/or palate will require surgery to repair the cleft.

The exact cause of clefts is still unknown, however, research suggests it may be a combination of genetic (inherited) and external factors (for example, if a mum to-be drinks, smokes, is overweight or has diabetes before becoming pregnant).

A cleft lip is usually identified at the 20-week anomaly scan; however, cleft palates often aren’t identified until birth.

A cleft can impact a child’s speech, feeding, hearing and dentition. Families and children may also benefit from psychological support as it can be a very stressful experience at times.

A Speech Pathologist’s role in cleft includes assessment and management of speech, language and feeding issues, education, prevention, advocacy and research. If you have any further questions or concerns, please contact us.