Mary Bridge Children's Hospital

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Surgical Services

Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate


© 1995- 2012. The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth®. Reprinted with permission.

Cleft lips and cleft palates are one of the most common, major birth defects, occurring in about 1 or 2 of every 1,000 infants born in the United States each year. An Orofacial cleft occurs when parts of the lip or palate does not completely fuse together during the first 3 months of pregnancy. 

A cleft lip may appear as a small notch in the edge of the lip only - extending into the nose, or it may also extend into the gums. A cleft palate may also vary in size, from a defect of the soft palate only, to a complete cleft that extends through the hard palate. Because the lips and the palate develop separately, it is possible for a child to be born with a cleft lip only, cleft palate only, or both.

A cleft lip may be detected through a prenatal ultrasound; however, diagnosing a cleft palate is more difficult and it may not be seen. The diagnosis and extent of cleft lip and palate is confirmed by physical examination after the birth of the child.

Critical Steps for Newborns with Cleft Lip/Palate

  • Assess the palate in each infant, especially if the infant is having problems with feeding.
  • Refer to the local Cleft Lip/Palate Team, SWWA Maxillofacial Team at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and Health Center, by calling 253-403-1559
  • Support the family to work through grief, loss and adjustment issues. 
  • Provide feeding education to the family. Feeding education is provided by the RN coordinator. A feeding evaluation is also offered at Mary Bridge Speech Clinic for infants with Cleft Lip or Palate after the infant is discharged from the hospital.


Cleft Lip

Can usually breast feed or use a regular bottle.

Cleft Palate

Breast feeding is not possible. Infants cannot create suction needed to draw milk out of the breast, or regular nipples on bottles. Even a small cleft will prevent proper suction needed. Families will need bottles and nipples designed for a cleft palate. Help mothers who plan to breastfeed to begin pumping and arrange for a pump rental.