When You're Told Your Baby Will Be Born With A Cleft Lip

Pregnancy can be exciting, but it can also have its scary moments. When your doctor analyzes your sonogram results and tells you your baby will be born with a cleft lip, it's only natural to be concerned and worried. But this is a very common condition that is easily corrected so that your baby can go on to live a normal, happy, healthy life. Here's a closer look.

What is a cleft lip?

You've probably seen pictures of babies with cleft lips without really realizing what you were looking at. This condition occurs when the upper lip does not form properly. Your baby is born with a "slit" or "gap" in the middle of the upper lift, so essentially there is no tissue between the bottom lip and the nose in that area. Cleft lips can be genetic, but there are many babies who develop them in spite of having no family history of the condition. They're more likely to occur in babies whose mothers smoked or used certain medications during pregnancy, but they also occur spontaneously. Your baby's cleft lip does not mean that you did anything wrong or that you're a bad mom.

Will the cleft lip perhaps go away before the baby is born?

Unfortunately, no. If your baby has a cleft lip now, he or she will be born with it. The mouth and the tissues around it form during the first trimester of pregnancy, and this is when malformations like cleft lips appear. They won't correct themselves naturally once they do occur.

How will the cleft lip be treated?

A cleft lip will make it hard for your baby to nurse, so most doctors recommend having it surgically corrected when your baby is very young. Generally, the operation will be performed by a pediatric plastic surgeon. The surgeon will connect the muscles and skin in the upper lip, essentially closing the gap. The procedure is performed under general anesthesia, so your baby will be asleep and won't feel a thing while it is being carried out.

Babies heal quickly from cleft lip surgery. Your baby may need to stay in the hospital for a day or two after the procedure but should then be able to return home. He or she may need to have the stitches removed after a week or two.

Most babies do have some scarring from cleft lip surgery, but the scars fade over time. If the scars are still noticeable when your baby is a teen, he or she may choose to have them modified with an additional plastic surgery.

On a physical level, however, cleft lip surgery makes it possible for your baby to nurse, breathe, and talk just like any other child. So don't worry too much. Your precious little one will require a bit of extra care, but he or she is going to be just fine.