What Is Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate? 

Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects that happen when a baby’s lip or mouth doesn’t form completely during pregnancy. Cleft lip is an opening in a baby’s upper lip and cleft palate is an opening in the roof of a baby’s mouth.

Both cleft lip and palate happen very early in pregnancy. Your baby’s lips form between 4 and 7 weeks of pregnancy, and the palate forms between 6 and 9 weeks of pregnancy. Cleft lip and palate don’t have to happen together — a baby can have one without the other. 

These birth defects often leads to problems with feeding, speaking clearly and increasing ear infections. In addition, people often have hearing problems and problems with their teeth.[i]  If these kids don’t get the necessary help, it can lead to malnutrition resulting in stunted growth and in severe cases, death. 

How often does this occur? 

In the United States

  • About 1 in every 1,600 babies is born with cleft lip and cleft palate.
  • About 1 in every 2,800 babies is born with cleft lip without cleft palate.
  • About 1 in every 1,700 babies is born with cleft palate.[ii]

These numbers, as you would expect are extremely low compared to other countries.  We have about 11 cases per 10,000 births while the 3 worst countries from a 2015 study were 38 per 10,000 in Venezuela, 36 per 10,000 in Iran, and 30 per 10,000 in Japan. 

The study also showed an increase in the number of children born with cleft palate in the America’s which included North and South America,[iii] which could be cause for concern. 

As for what causes this condition, genetic factors account for about 30 percent of cleft conditions. It is also believed the mother’s health, like obesity, diabetes[iv] or having an infection like German measles, as well as her lifestyle or diet choices like smoking[v] and drinking as well as the medications she may take such as those for anti-seizure[vi] like topiramate[vii] or valproic acid during pregnancy are a factor in kids having cleft lip or palate. 

However, scientists are still searching for other causes with the hope of one day being able to prevent children from being born with cleft lips or palates.

How can you take ownership when it comes to cleft lip and palates? 

Based on what we just said there are a few things that you can do to help that seem relatively easy like checking on the medications you are taking and looking for other options if your medication is linked to cleft issues in offspring. 

In addition, make sure you stay at a healthy weight, stop drinking and smoking if you are and don’t start if you don’t. However, one of the things that most of us think is impossible to overcome is genetics. 

One study from 2010 and 2016 regarding genetics linked cleft lip and palate with 3 specific genetic polymorphisms. A genetic polymorphism is a gene which is expressing itself different than the way it was designed. 

The polymorphisms in this case all affect enzymes which are key to getting needed nutrients to a form our bodies can use. They are MTR (methionine synthase); MTRR (methionine synthase reductase); and MTHFR (methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase). 

The study from 2011 showed a 1½ times greater chance of developing cleft lip and palate for those with the MTR polymorphism, 3 times for the MTHFR polymorphism, and 5½ times for those with a MTRR polymorphism.  

Thankfully, we can mitigate a lot of the issues associated with these genetic defects by being mindful of what we eat and supplementing with the right form of vitamins. 

Specifically, you need to avoid the synthetic forms of folate and Vitamin B12 which are folic acid and cyanocobalamin and are found fortified in cereals, breads, and pastas as well as most supplements. 

Instead, your diet should consist of leafy greens, fruits and veggies, and non-processed meats and your supplements should consist of folate in the form of methylfolate or folinic acid (folinic not folic), and vitamin B12 in the form of adenosyl or methyl cobalamin. 

Each of these steps will help you take ownership of your health and restore vitality and energy into your day.

I hope you are a little more aware of how much your actions can help take ownership of your health and reduce the likelihood of having a child with cleft lip or palate. Get healthy by exercising and eating well and work to get the health your body was designed to give you. 


[ii] Mai CT, Isenburg JL, Canfield MA, Meyer RE, Correa A, Alverson CJ, Lupo PJ, Riehle‐Colarusso T, Cho SJ, Aggarwal D, Kirby RS. National population‐based estimates for major birth defects, 2010–2014. Birth Defects Research. 2019; 111(18): 1420-1435.

[iii] V Bloomfield , CH Liao, 113: Global Trends in the Rate of Cleft Lip and Palate: Bridging the Gap, Paediatrics & Child Health, Volume 20, Issue 5, June-July 2015, Page e75, https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/20.5.e75

[iv] Correa A, Gilboa SM, Besser LM, Botto LD, Moore CA, Hobbs CA, Cleves MA, Riehle-Colarusso TJ, Waller DK, Reece EA. Diabetes mellitus and birth defects. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 2008;199:237.e1-9.

[v] Little J, Cardy A, Munger RG. Tobacco smoking and oral clefts: a meta-analysis. Bull World Health Organ. 2004;82:213-18.

[vi] Werler MM, Ahrens KA, Bosco JL, Michell AA, Anderka MT, Gilboa SM, Holmes LB, National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Use of antiepileptic medications in pregnancy in relation to risks of birth defects. Annals of Epidemiology 2011;21:842-50.

[vii] Margulis AV, Mitchell AA, Gilboa SM, Werler MM, Glynn RJ, Hernandez-Diaz S, National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Use of topiramate in pregnancy and risk of oral clefts. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 2012;207:405.e1-e7.