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5 Facts Parents Should Know About Cleft Lip and Palate

Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality healthcare, highlights National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month this July.

Fact 1: Cleft Lips and Palates are More Common Than Many Realise.
Did you know that 1 in 700 births occur with cleft lip and palate? Cleft lip and palate are amongst the five most common birth defects reported in South Africa. Children with clefts may have delayed feeding and language development. They may also be at a higher risk for ear infections, hearing impairments and tooth problems.

“Cleft lip and palate are birth abnormalities. They develop when the lips or mouth do not form correctly during pregnancy. These congenital deformities are orofacial clefts,” says Murray Hewlett, Affinity Health CEO.


Fact 2: Cleft Lip and Palate Occur In the First Few Weeks of Pregnancy.
Your lips form between four and seven weeks of pregnancy. The palate forms between six and nine weeks of pregnancy. Cells increase and move when a baby grows during gestation. Specialised cells from either side of the head move forward and fuse in the centre to form the face. This tissue fusion creates face characteristics, such as the lips and mouth.

A cleft lip occurs when the tissues that comprise the lip do not unite before birth. That results in the upper lip opening. The aperture in the lip may be a little slit or a large hole extending from the lip to the nose.

A cleft lip can develop on one or both sides of the lip. But, although rarely, it may also form in the centre of the lip. Children with a cleft lip are also susceptible to having a cleft palate.


Fact 3: There is No One Cause of Cleft Lip and Palate.
In the majority of cases, the reasons for orofacial clefts are unknown. Some children are born with a cleft lip or cleft palate due to alterations in their DNA. It is a common belief that cleft lip and palate comprise a mix of genes.

Other circumstances may also contribute to cleft formations:

  • Immediate surroundings.
  • Food and drinks consumed during pregnancy.
  • Specific drugs she takes during pregnancy.

What Increase the Risks of Having a Child with an Orofacial Cleft?

·       Smoking:
Smoking during pregnancy enhanced the likelihood of orofacial cleft development.
<strong·       Diabetes:
Diabetic mothers may be more susceptible to having babies with a cleft lip or palate.
·       Epilepsy Treatment:
The following epilepsy medication may be unsafe during the first trimester:

Taking these medications may increase the dangers of cleft lip or palate in babies.
·       Genetics:
Parents with a family history of cleft lip or palate have a higher likelihood of having a child with a cleft.
·       Obesity:
Obesity during pregnancy may lead to an increased risk of cleft lip and palate in infants.
·       Gender:
Boys are more likely than girls to have a cleft lip with or without a cleft palate.

Fact 4: An Ultrasound May Not Always See Cleft Lips and Cleft Palates.
During pregnancy, a regular ultrasound can identify orofacial clefts. More specifically, cleft lip with or without cleft palate. Doctors may also see them only after birth, particularly cleft palates.

Even so, cleft palates may be unidentifiable until later in life. That would include:


Fact 5: Surgery is Often the Best Course of Treatment for Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate.
Services and treatment for children with orofacial clefts might range according to severity. Their age needs and medical history will determine the best course of action. Surgery to correct a cleft lip occurs within the first few months of life. Doctors might also prefer to resolve it within the first year.


Cleft palates may need surgical repair within the first 18 months of life. As children age, they will often need more surgical treatments. Surgical correction can enhance facial appearance. It can also enhance breathing, hearing, and language development. Children born with orofacial clefts may need more treatments and services. Examples of treatment include speech therapy or orthodontic care.


“Children with orofacial clefts can lead healthy lives. Therapy gives them the tools they need to recover,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health. “Children with orofacial clefts may have self-esteem difficulties. They may be self-conscious about their visual differences from other youngsters. Families of infants with orofacial clefts may find support through parent-to-parent groups beneficial.”


Cleft Friends is the only organisation in South Africa for parents of children with cleft lip or palate. Parents encourage each other to celebrate their babies. They also access medical intervention through Smile Foundation. For more information on Cleft Friends, click here.

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is the leading provider of affordable medical insurance in South Africa. Members enjoy access to a network of healthcare providers. We have designed healthcare products to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service. For more information, follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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