What are the symptoms of cleft lip and cleft palate?

The diagnosis of cleft lip and palate can occur as early as a routine ultrasound scan at around the eighteen to twenty week mark of pregnancy. However, though the condition may have been identified early on there is not much you can do about it, except go about finding out as much information as you can about the condition. For the most part the condition is only identified once the baby is born, when the gap on the upper lip and gum is more easily identifiable. This is when the symptoms will become apparent and it can be of great help to know what to look out for. This section provides you with a detailed examination of the various symptoms that you should be on the look out for.

Affect on feeding

Although there may be some affect on the ability of a baby with cleft lip and palate to feed they are still usually able to do so. However, there are instances in which the child may have difficulty suckling on the nipple to get enough milk, be taking in too much air while feeding or may even have milk coming up through their nose. If this is the case then you can try feeding your baby in different positions and angles, or you can gently press your baby against your nipple to help them latch on properly. You should look out for such symptoms as it may be the case that your baby is not getting enough milk during feeding.

If your child is unable to latch on properly, or you just don’t want to breast feed then there are other options available. There are a range of special teats and bottles available to help with feeding, and you can choose to use formula or breast milk. There is also the possibility of using dental plates to help with the feeding process. If your baby is having difficulty feeding then there may be an affect upon their growth due to them not getting enough nutrients. If this is the case then you should contact a specialist cleft nurse to seek advice on feeding.

Affect on speech

Whether the gap on the upper lip and gum is small or large there may be an apparent speech difficulty. However, this may not be dramatic or even noticeable. When a child has surgery to correct the birth defect there is the likelihood that they will find it difficult to pronounce certain sounds as clearly as others. There may also be a distinct nasal sound to the child’s voice due to the amount of air that travels through the nose. However, this can be corrected through further surgery. A child can also learn to overcome any speech defects caused by a cleft lip defect through speech therapy.

Affect on the teeth and jaw

Due to the condition being based in an area so close to the teeth and jaw, it is sometimes the case that they will also be affected. In some cases there may be first teeth missing close to where the cleft lip is situated or the teeth may come through but be crooked. In other instances there are too many teeth and this can also lead to crookedness due to overcrowding. A dentist and orthodontist can be of great assistance if this is the case.

Dental specialists are able to offer braces when second teeth are coming through to help force the teeth into a straighter position. This may require the removal of teeth if there is overcrowding or implants if there are absent teeth. The jaw can also be affected by a cleft lip as it may cause the growth of the upper jaw to fall behind the lower jaw. If this is the case then the assistance of a medical expert in orthognathic surgery can help put the condition right.

Affect on hearing

If your baby is diagnosed as having cleft lip and palate then they will be more likely to have hearing problems. This can then lead to difficulty communicating if left untreated. The condition that will most likely affect a child who has cleft lip and palate is ‘glue ear’. This is a condition where a gluey substance builds up behind the eardrum, a part of the ear that acts as a divide between the outer and middle ear.

Such a build up of fluid occurs due to the eustachian tube being misshapen, which would usually work to get rid of excess fluid. ‘Glue ear’ can be treated through simple antibiotics or may require a plastic tube to be inserted into the eardrum to help with the draining of excessive fluid. This is a simple surgical procedure. You should ensure that your child receives a hearing test within six months after birth, whether there are any apparent symptoms of hearing loss or not.

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