Diagnosis: Understanding Cleft

boy looks sad
mother holds infant baby with cleft lip

What Are Clefts?

Clefts occur when certain body parts and structures do not fuse together during early fetal development. Clefts can involve the lip and/or the roof of the mouth. They can be unilateral, involving only one side of the mouth and face, or bilateral, involving both sides. They are also one of the most common birth differences; globally, an estimated 1 in every 700 newborns has a cleft lip and/or palate.


How Are Clefts Diagnosed?

A clefts can be diagnosed as early as the 13th week of pregnancy. A cleft lip can be seen on an ultrasound, but a cleft palate is much more difficult to detect. Early diagnosis can help families understand the care their new baby may need. If the cleft is not detected in utero, it will be seen at birth, and the family should immediately be referred to an experienced cleft care team.

infant with a bilateral cleft

What Causes Clefts?

While we can’t know why any given baby is born with a cleft, we do know that clefts are often caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. A cleft is never the fault of the parents or the child and can always be treated.