While doctors do not know exactly what causes cleft palates in newborns, they do know that they may be inherited from the child’s parents. Another cause for cleft palates could be poor health or drug use during pregnancy; the third option is that the child could have a cleft palate as part of a constellation of symptoms that denote a genetic abnormality like Down syndrome or Waardenburg syndrome. Cleft palates emerge more often in Asians and some Native American tribes, and American adoption agencies are working hard to make sure that children with cleft palates can be adopted from other countries and brought to America.
What exactly is a cleft palate? The word “cleft” simply means a break or split, and the word “palate” refers specifically to the roof of the child’s mouth. There are several types of cleft palate disorders that are routinely diagnosed: some children are born with a cleft lip, while others have both a cleft lip and palate. The disorder is evident during routine well-baby checks of newborn infants, and the repair process is a relatively simple surgical procedure. Children who do not have surgery — usually performed by the 18-month mark — may face speech delays, sleep disordered breathing, and ear and sinus infections. If your child was born with a cleft lip or palate, talk to your doctor about the proper way to proceed.
The outcome for children with cleft palates is generally very good. They may need special dental care and speech therapy, but children who undergo surgery for cleft palate are able to blend in well with their peers. Many children have slight speech impediments up until second or third grade, and as children recover from their cleft palate surgery they will learn to speak and to make themselves understood. The surgery is usually conducted during the late infant or early toddler years: by the time the children start kindergarten, most of their early speech defects will have evened out or disappeared completely.
The problem with cleft palate is that some countries do not have the technology to treat the defect: children with cleft lip and palate are routinely placed for adoption. More than 100,000 kids are adopted in the United States every year, and prospective adoptive parents are asked if they would adopt a child with a cleft palate. Cleft palate is considered a craniofacial condition, and the surgeons deliver the child a dose of anesthetic before the surgery begins. Children do not feel the surgery, and after a few weeks they should be up, mobile, and back to normal. In some cases, the surgeon corrects the tissue at the end of the child’s nose with some minor rhinoplasty, but doctors will notify parents in the event that they would like to perform that sort of surgical procedure.
After a cleft palate repair procedure, parents should expect a follow up visit in a few years to remove any lingering scars on their child’s face. What can be a difficult surgery in other countries remains a relatively minor procedure here in the United States, and parents whose children are born with a cleft lip or palate should rest assured that doctors are able to fix the deformity with routine surgery. By the time they are teens, they will have a tiny, barely noticeable scar and most likely no memory of even being in the hospital. Cleft palate may mean having to deal with some ongoing dental issues, but overall the prognosis for children born with cleft lip and palate is a very positive one.