Cleft Lip

What Is A Cleft Lip?

Cleft lip occurs when the lip of the mouth does not fuse completely during the first trimester of pregnancy.

The size of the cleft lip can range from a small notch in the upper lip to an opening that extends to the base of the nostrils. The cleft lip can occur on one side, which is called unilateral cleft lip, or on both sides, which is called bilateral cleft lip.

Our craniofacial team includes internationally renowned surgeons and 18 clinical specialists, all who are dedicated to helping families with children affected by head and neck birth defects. Our goal is to provide your child with the best possible comprehensive treatment by using the latest technology and time-honored, heart-felt care.





Causes of Cleft Lip

If your child was born with cleft lip, it is natural to wonder why. 

Many cases of cleft lip are inherited, although a single gene has not yet been identified. Therefore, parents with clefting have a greater chance of having a child with clefting. Similarly, if one of their children already has cleft lip, there is a greater risk of having another child with the same condition.

If neither of you carries the gene, then there is only a 3 to 5 percent chance of having another child with cleft lip.

It is also natural to wonder if your children’s children will inherit clefting. Your child does have a greater chance of having children with clefting. 


Clefting can occur in any race, but it has a higher rate of occurrence in Native Americans and Asians. Sixty percent of occurrences of cleft lips are not linked with anything that occurs during or after pregnancy. 


A few of the exceptions are:

  • Exposure to the drug phenytoin (Dilantin) during pregnancy increases the risk by ten times.
  • Smoking while pregnant doubles the rate of cleft lip.
  • Alcohol, anticonvulsants, and retinoic acid (vitamin A) are linked with other birth malformations that include cleft lip and cleft palate
  • Nutritional deficiencies in the mother, such as a deficiency in folic acid, have been linked to birth defects.

Symptoms of Cleft Lip

Your child might have been diagnosed with cleft lip during a prenatal ultrasound. In many cases, cleft lip is diagnosed after birth based on a doctor’s examination of your baby.

Characteristics of Cleft Lip:
  • A cleft lip can range from a small notch in the red part of the upper lip to 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.
  • The nose is stretched.
  • Your baby might have a difficult time feeding at first and might need to use a special bottle to feed. A feeding specialist can help you choose the best bottle for your baby and will help you learn the best feeding technique for your baby. With the correct technique, your baby can learn to feed quite well.
This list should be used as a guideline. Not every symptom is included. If your child has one or more of these symptoms, it does not mean that he or she has cleft lip. If you are concerned that your child might have cleft lip, please make an appointment with your child's doctor.

Because your child’s condition may be a symptom of a more complex syndrome, we use 3D CT imaging to provide a diagnosis more quickly and with more accuracy than ever before. Traditional CT scans provide black and white, one-dimensional scans, while advanced 3D imaging technology provides colored, multidimensional images that allow us to see the specific characteristics of your child’s condition. In this way, we can better understand how your child’s birth defect will specifically impact his or her health and development. 

Treatments for Cleft Lip

As a parent, you probably have a number of concerns and questions about the treatment for your child. Our world-class team at the Yale Craniofacial Program will work closely with you to determine the best treatment plan for your child. A cleft lip is generally repaired between three and six months old, but your child may need multiple surgeries to achieve optimal improvement in appearance and in oral function.

During the planning stage of surgery, we use the most advanced 3D imaging techniques for a complete understanding of your child’s specific condition. By gathering accurate data, we can:
  • Simulate the outcome of proposed surgical plans and adjust any discrepancies before surgery
  • Follow and monitor your child’s condition during the post-surgical healing process
  • Monitor your child’s long-term development