Cleft Lip

Cleft lip, also known as cheiloschisis, is a birth defect, which is a result of an abnormal facial development during gestation period. Complete development of lips in the foetus inside the womb happens between the fourth and seventh week of pregnancy. However, if the tissue that forms the lips does not join properly or fuse to form a complete lip, it leaves a cleft. A cleft means a gap, opening or a fissure. Cleft lip can be a small slit or a larger opening that goes up to the nose. The cleft is usually on one side of the lip (unilateral cleft lip), however, it can also occur on both the sides (bilateral cleft lip). It can also be accompanied by a cleft in the palate, but it is far less complicated than having a cleft palate. These deformities of the lip and palate are also known as orofacial clefts.

The two main types of cleft lip are:

  • Unilateral
  • Bilateral

Classification of clefts on the basis of their severity

  • Partial cleft
  • Complete cleft
  • Asymmetrical cleft

Risk factors involved:

  • Women over 35 years of age are at a greater risk of delivering babies with cleft lips.
  • If a woman becomes pregnant when she is very young i.e. in her teens, the chances of birth defects in the baby are quite high.
  • If the woman does not get proper nutrition and care during pregnancy, it may result in abnormalities and birth defects in the baby.
  • Birth defects in newborns can also be a result of smoking and drug abuse by a woman during her pregnancy.
  • Women who take anticonvulsants are more likely to deliver babies with birth deformities.

Children with a cleft lip may face the following problems
Feeding a baby with this birth defect may be a little difficult. If the cleft goes up to the nose the milk might even enter the nasal passage. Presence of a cleft lip may cause difficulty in speech. Such children may face dental problems such as small teeth, missing teeth, extra teeth or wrongly- positioned teeth. This may also lead to other oral problems and complications. A child with this congenital disorder might also have hearing problems. Hence, regular check-ups are necessary. As the child grows, living with this birth defect can be difficult, and it can lead to inferiority complex and other psychological problems.

Treatment
Surgical procedures can repair this birth defect. The surgery is generally done when the child is six weeks to nine months old. In case of bilateral cleft lip, the surgery is first done on one of the cleft, and the second cleft is operated upon after a gap of few weeks. These surgeries should be done at an early age, as at a later stage they may get complicated and not yield desired results.

You may have noticed that your baby, till it is six to eight weeks old, is crying but there are no tears in the eyes. This is because the tear glands are not developed in babies till they are approximately eight weeks old