Early Surgery Boosts Outcomes for Babies With Cleft Palate

To help prevent the common birth defect, experts also advise folic acid for mom

FRIDAY, April 29 (HealthDay News) -- Prenatal diagnosis, early surgery and well-coordinated care by a team of specialists are vital for children born with cleft lip and/or cleft palate, experts say.

Cleft lip and/or palate -- which occur in the first trimester of pregnancy when the roof of the mouth fails to fuse properly -- affects more than 7,000 babies born in the United States each year and is the second most common birth defect.

Prenatal ultrasounds can detect the majority of cases. As soon as a diagnosis is made, doctors should counsel parents in order to give them time to prepare emotionally before the birth of the baby, experts say. Doctors and parents also need to develop a treatment plan, according to Dr. Richard Redett, a pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgeon and co-director of the Cleft & Craniofacial Clinic at Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

He noted that research has shown that early surgery helps ensure proper speech development. Surgery is most effective if done before the baby is one year old.

Post-surgical treatment should include ear-nose-throat specialists, speech therapists, pediatric orthodontists and psychologists, Redett said.

He and his colleagues offered some tips to prevent cleft lip/palate:

  • Women planning to become pregnant should take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day.
  • Pregnant women should not smoke and should avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Pregnant women also need to tell their doctors about any prescription or over-the-counter medications they are taking or planning to take, since certain medicines can cause or increase the risk of birth defects.
  • Patients with a family history of cleft palate should talk with their physician about a genetic work-up.

More information

The March of Dimes has more about cleft lip and palate.

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