Can drinking while pregnant cause a cleft palate?

My friend is 42 years old who has a three week old baby boy, born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. She breastfeeds and then supplements with breastmilk in a bottle to try an help the baby gain weight for his surgery in two months. He weighed a little over five pounds at birth. I am concerned because I thought she stopped drinking and smoking before becoming pregnant but the other day I saw her drink some wine. Can her age and drinking have caused her baby's cleft?


Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

A cleft of the lip and/or palate occur when the parts of the lip and/or palate do not properly fuse together during the early weeks of pregnancy, leaving a defect or "hole." This is one of the most common birth defects. It occurs in approximately one out of 700 live births each year in the United States. Most experts on cleft palate believe that no single cause is responsible. Clefts are often caused by several factors working together. Heredity probably plays a role in this defect along with nutritional deficiencies, environmental conditions, viral infections and drug use.

If your friend has only an occasional alcoholic drink (during lactation), it has not been shown to be harmful to the baby. Alcohol can be found in breastmilk about 30 minutes after consumption. It may have a mildly sedating effect on the baby. While drinking, and for two to three hours afterwards, it is best to avoid breastfeeding. (Medications and Mothers' Milk, Thomas Hale, R.Ph.,Ph.D., 1994)

Regular abuse of alcohol interferes with the mother's ability to care for her baby, can inhibit her milk ejection, may slow baby's motor development, and may result in slow weight gain or failure to thrive in herbaby. The effect that alcohol has on the baby seems to be directly related to the amount the mother drinks.

It is wonderful that your friend is nursing her baby. Breastmilk helps to dramatically reduce the incidence of ear and respiratory tract infections that babies with clefts are prone to. Since development of the face and mouth is very important for babies with a cleft, breastfeeding is ideal. It requires more (positive) effort than bottle feeding and thus encourages more normal facial formation. This may later help with the baby's development of proper speech.

Need Advice?
Get answers from iVillage experts and other moms just like you!
Question Details
  1. Pick a subject:
Connect with 1,039,394 members just like you
Share your knowledge, ask questions.