Chromosomal and Genetic Conditions

Cleft Lip and Palate Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate

A cleft lip can range from microform cleft lip (a small notch in the red part of the upper lip) to complete bilateral cleft lip (two wide gaps in the upper lip and a collapsed and stretched nose).

The muscle, skin and lining of the lip are missing in the gap of a cleft. They are in the wrong place on each side of the cleft and distort the nearby tissues.

Unilateral incomplete and complete cleft lips

(Left) Unilateral complete cleft lip. (Right) Unilateral incomplete cleft lip.

The nose, or nostril, is stretched as a result of the pull of the abnormal attachments of the muscles on each side of the cleft.

A cleft palate can only be seen when the baby's mouth is open. It is a gap along the middle of the roof of the mouth.

When you look at a cleft palate through the mouth, you are looking up into the nose.

This explains why infants with cleft lip and palate often have a hard time feeding at first. Milk often comes out of the baby's nose while eating. But with the right technique and help they can learn to feed very well.

Nurses and infant feeding specialists offer detailed feeding instructions and support for new parents of babies with cleft lip and palate.

Find out more about feeding instructions.

Cleft Lip and Palate Diagnosis

Sometimes cleft lip and palate are diagnosed before a baby is born because the clefts can be visible during a routine ultrasound.

In many cases, cleft lip and palate are diagnosed after birth. Cleft lip will be obvious when the doctor examines your baby.

If your child has a cleft palate but not cleft lip, it may not be noticeable at first, especially if the soft tissue inside the mouth covers the gap in the roof of your child's mouth. You and your child's doctor may discover a cleft palate only after your child shows other signs, such as having a hard time feeding.

The doctor may suggest doing genetic tests to tell whether your child's cleft lip and palate are part of a condition known to cause other signs or symptoms, too, such as van der Woude syndrome and velocardiofacial syndrome.