By: Emerald LavenderMost parents would be shocked to learn that one the most common birth defects amongst newborns in the United States are cleft lip and palate. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that one in 33 babies are born each year with a birth defect. Among those, cleft lip and palate account for about 6800. A cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth in which the two sides of the palate failed to properly bond within the first stages of fetal development. The same is true for cleft lip except that it is a separation of the two sides of the lip. In some cases a child may be born with a cleft lip and palate. Both birth defects can be either unilateral or bilateral. A unilateral cleft is characterized by one separation; whereas a bilateral cleft is characterized by two. According to the Center for Disease Control, the palate is formed when a woman is six to nine weeks pregnant and the lip is formed at the four to seven week mark.
The cause of cleft lip and palate are still unknown. However, there are suspected causes that are directly linked to the birth defects. Genetics, maternal diseases, lack of folic acid intake, excess retinoic acid and anticonvulsant medications, chemotherapy, radiation and drinking and smoking while pregnant are some of the environmental factors. It should also be noted that pregnancies in women ages 35 and above and teenage pregnancies are at a higher risk of having babies with some form of birth defect.
Today’s technological advances have allowed doctors to detect cleft lip and palate well before a baby is born. With regular ultra-sounds, and prenatal checkups, a patient can be well informed on the status of her growing fetus. On the bright side, there are craniofacial surgery teams across America whose sole purpose is to repair cleft lips and palates. Children with cleft lip or palate may also have trouble hearing, speaking or feeding. These issues can be handled and minimized with the aid of good teachers, dentist and surgeons. It is a general idea that most cleft lip and palate babies go on to lead normal lives.
Interview with Emily Williams
Emily Williams is a local mother of Spotsylvania, VA who has a 10-month old named Addison. Addison was born with a cleft lip.
1) Was your daughter’s Addison’s cleft lip detected before or after birth?
Emily: Addison’s cleft lip was detected at 27 weeks when I went into pre-term labor. The doctor performed a 3-D sonogram and that is when the cleft lip was detected.
2) Since it was detected before birth, how did you mentally prepare yourself?
Emily: At first, I looked online to see the worst case scenario to prepare myself. But no matter what, I knew she was my baby and it really didn’t matter. I didn’t do a lot of research.
3) Were the doctors able to give you a reason or cause for Addison’s cleft lip?
Emily: There is no family history of cleft lip on either side of my family and I didn’t drink or smoke while I was pregnant. The cause is unknown.
4) Has Addison undergone any surgery? What were the results?
Emily: She had her first surgery on January 27, 2010. She was 3 months old and 10lbs. The surgeons did an absolutely great job. They glued her lip together and they did her nose. I won’t know if she needs more surgeries until she is 1 year old.
5) Have any other body functions been affected because of Addison’s cleft lip?
Emily: Her nose and ears were affected. She has regular ear infections. Her voice sounds really raspy. She will always have problems with her ears and nose. They had to do surgery on her nose because her lip had pulled her nose down and made it flat. They had to perform surgery to round her nose out.
6) What advice would you give to mothers who discover that their child will have a cleft lip or palate?
Emily: I would say that more than the actual cleft lip or palate, mentally prepare for the surgeries. Remember that your child needs you the most. No matter what your child may look like, they will be beautiful to you. Seeing your child go through pain is the hardest part of it all.
Addison, before and after her surgery: