Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects that occur when a baby’s lip or mouth do not form properly during pregnancy. Together, these birth defects commonly are called “orofacial clefts”. These birth defects happen early during pregnancy. A baby can have a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both a cleft lip and cleft palate.Facial Development
A baby’s head forms early during pregnancy. To make the face, body tissue and special cells from each side of the head grow toward the center of the face and join together. This joining of tissue forms the facial features, like the lips and mouth.Cleft Lip
The lip forms between the fourth and seventh weeks of pregnancy. A cleft lip happens if the tissue that makes up the lip does not join completely before birth. This results in an opening in the upper lip. The opening in the lip can be a small slit or it can be a large opening that goes through the lip into the nose. A cleft lip can be on one or both sides of the lip or in the middle of the lip, which occurs very rarely. Children with a cleft lip also can have a cleft palate.Cleft Palate
The roof of the mouth (palate) is formed between the sixth and ninth weeks of pregnancy. A cleft palate happens if the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth does not join together completely during pregnancy. For some babies, both the front and back parts of the palate are open. For other babies, only part of the palate is open.