May 6th – 14th marks Cleft Lip and Palate Awareness Week in the UK.
Did you know that around one in 700 babies are born with a cleft around the world. That’s over 1,200 babies born with a cleft each year in the UK!
The aim of this week is to raise awareness of a condition that 3 babies per day in the UK are born with; to help people understand both what a cleft is and the impact clefts can have on a family – and the difference that the right support can make.
What is Cleft Lip and Palate?
In early pregnancy, different parts of the face form before fusing in the middle. Most people have a little dip above their top lip where this happens.
For one in every 700 babies, the different parts don’t join together all the way. The result is a gap, known as a cleft.
This cleft can be in the top lip (cleft lip), the roof of the mouth (cleft palate), or both.
There’s no single cause. Usually, it’s a mix of many genetic and environmental factors that can’t be predicted or prevented.
The Cleft Lip & Palate Association has put together the following quick facts about the condition:
- A cleft lip may mean a baby looks different, but it doesn’t hurt them. They can’t tell anything is different!
- A cleft often means babies can’t be breastfed or use regular bottles. The gap makes it difficult to create suction; it’s like trying to drink through a straw with a hole in it.
- A cleft is a physical difference that has no effect on a baby’s cognitive development. It’s not linked with learning difficulties.
- A cleft is not considered a disability, though some people will need extra help with their speech and hearing as they grow up. Sometimes this is severe and long-term enough to be classed as a disability under the Equality Act.
- The gap left by a cleft can usually be closed in one or two surgeries before a child’s first birthday, but the treatment pathway is 20 years long. It’s not a quick fix; the impact of a cleft can be lifelong.
- Just like every child, every cleft is unique, and every family will face unique challenges.