In the womb, the upper lip develops from three parts and the palate develops into two halves which, in clefts, then fail to merge. There may be a cleft of the lip, the palate, or both. A baby born with cleft lip and palate usually requires two operations for the initial repair and then another operation at about 8 to 10 years of age to fill the gap in the alveolus (gum). Further surgery may be required to improve the appearance of the nose and the lip. As well as the obvious physical abnormality, there may be related problems with hearing or speech.

There is still so much that is unknown about clefts and why they occur. CLEFT is funding research into answering questions such as why do clefts occur and can we identify which genes have a role in clefts? For more information, look at our FAQs page to find out answers to questions such as  What are the physical effects of cleft lip and palate? and How do clefts happen?

The facts about cleft lip and palate

  • Every year, 1 in 700 babies in the UK is born with a cleft lip and/or palate.
  • Cleft is the most common birth defect.
  • Disruption of the lip and/or palate closing up during pregnancy will result in a cleft.
  • The causes of clefts are largely unknown but are likely to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
  • Approximately 10% of children born with a cleft also have an associated genetic syndrome.
  • A cleft palate, even after being surgically repaired, can affect how a child speaks and hears.
  • Children with clefts should get their hearing and speaking assessed early and often require ongoing treatment or therapy.
  • Surgical treatment to repair a cleft palate/ lip typically requires at least 4 operations before a child's 2nd birthday.
  • In the UK and at Great Ormond Street Hospital, clefts can be very successfully treated through surgery, professional care and therapy.