The Cleft Defect in Infants
By Theodoros Manfredi
The cleft defect occurs in about one in every one thousand babies born each year. The defect is almost always visible at birth and will be diagnosed by the doctor immediately. With new technology, the cleft defect can sometimes be diagnosed through an ultrasound before the child is even born. This will allow doctors to already be prepared for any necessary work that may be required after your baby is born.
If your child is born with a cleft defect do not get too upset because there are a lot of options available for him. This is one of the most common birth defects and because of this a lot of research has been completed on how to properly correct this defect. The medical professionals have made great progress in this area and they are very successful and helping fix this problem.
What Is the Cleft Defect?
The cleft defect is usually noticeable as soon as the baby is born. A cleft defect can occur on the upper lip or upper palate of the infant’s mouth. With a cleft lip there is a split that runs through the center of the upper lip. A cleft palate is when the split runs through the upper palate or roof of the mouth. This condition is not usually life threatening but is a cause for concern because it can cause many problems as the child grows if not treated correctly.
In rare cases the cleft only appears in the soft muscles of the upper palate and this area is not visible at birth. Some signs that this may be an issue are your baby has trouble feeding because they do not seem to be able to suck right, they have continuous nasal problems and they are excessively gassy. If your infant experiences all of these symptoms you should contact your doctor so that they can have a complete check-up.
Why So Some Children Get These?
It is difficult to say why some infants have cleft defect and others do not. Some studies have suggested that genetics plays a large role in this and if either the mother or father had this birth defect, then the baby is more likely to have it too. Even if it is hereditary, it is hard to determine why some children carry the gene and others do not seem to possess it.
There are also some environmental factors that some studies suggest may cause the cleft defect. This includes exposure of the mother while pregnant to different types of chemicals or if the mother carried a virus while she was pregnant. Other factors include drinking, smoking, some types of prescription medication and illegal drugs. If a woman is pregnant and carries out some of these activities, it would put her child at higher risk.
What Problems Does it Cause
Initially this cleft defect may make it difficult for your baby to drink because it will affect their sucking abilities. If this is the case with your child, a special feeding device will have to be used until the problem can be fixed. This will make it difficult for mothers who want to breast feed their baby at least for the first few weeks. They will need to pump their milk until their child is able to have his lip or palate fixed and is able to suck again.
If the problem is not fixed, the child will develop more medical complication as he grows older. The child will continue to have problems eating and the cleft defect will limit his ability to speak correctly. The baby will also be more susceptible to ear infections and may lose his hearing over time. They will also suffer emotional pain because of people looking and staring at them not to mention bullies at school.
Developing a Health Care Team
The good news is there is help and lots of it too. If your child has been diagnosed with a cleft defect an entire team of medical professionals will be created to help you through the process. First of all your team will need to have a pediatrician, surgeon and plastic surgeon who will all work together to devise the right plan for your child. They will also need to bring in specialist like an orthodontist and an otolaryngologist (ears, nose and throat doctor) that will added to the team to add help for your child’s teeth and ears, nose and throat.
You will also be given a case worker who will be able to help you manage all of your child’s different needs. This case worker can help you by ensuring the medial insurance is handled properly and she can act as the liaison between the doctors and yourself. Sometimes the doctor will suggest counseling for the parents to help them through this difficult time as it can be very emotional and hard to deal with.
How to Correct the Defect
Many infants every year are successfully treated for cleft defect with a series of surgeries that will leave them looking like there was never a problem. Your team of specialists will discuss the plans to do surgery to correct the defect. In most cases a series of surgeries is necessary in order to leave the lips and palate looking like they should and to correct any other issues the defect may have caused. This can include fixing any problems with the child’s ears or teeth.
The first surgery will be planned anywhere from a few days to a few months after the child is born. This may seem early to you and be a little scary but the sooner they can fix the problem, the better chance they have of success. This will also allow your child to eat and talk properly as he grows through the first year of life. As your child grows, he will experience other surgeries as needed to correct the problem. Most of the surgeries should be completed by the time your child is a teenager.
Surgery will be able to help almost all of your problems that occur due to the cleft defect but your child may experience some additional problems even if surgery is done. Your child’s speech may be affected and he may need to see a speech pathologist or take speech classes. The good news is that you will be able to work with your child early on and correct most speech problems before school begins. Your child may also keep having ear infections and he is very likely to need to have tubes put in his ears at some point.
Your child’s teeth will most likely be effect by the defect and will need to be seen by an orthodontist. The dentist will be able to ensure that the teeth are properly aligned and are growing correctly. The orthodontist will then be able to develop a plan of action to fix any teeth that are causing problems.
This may seem overwhelming at first but your case worker will help you through the whole process and arrange things for you. The great news is that this is a fixable defect and the doctors have a lot of experience in dealing with this. Almost all children see very successful results and continue to live a normal life with no one able to notice that there was a problem.