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The lips and mouth form early in fetal development, but they sometimes fail to do so properly. When this happens, babies are born with a cleft lip, cleft palate or both. A cleft lip occurs when the top lip doesn't from completely, leaving a gap. A cleft palate is the same condition but it occurs in the roof of the mouth rather than in the lips. Sometimes both the lip and the roof of the mouth are cleft. Surgical procedures can repair the damage and close the cleft but vary drastically from one child to another. Cleft lip repair is typically done at 6 to 12 weeks of age while cleft palate repair may require waiting until the child is closer to a year old. Because some children need multiple surgeries as they grow, the cost of repairing cleft lips and palates varies greatly.

It is important to understand that cleft lips and palates are not just cosmetic issues. While the cleft is visible and repairing it does create a more normal appearance, cleft lip and palate repairs are necessary to restore proper function. Repairing these clefts can improve hearing, allow for normal speech development and correct tooth and jaw alignment issues. Breathing can also be made easier by cleft palate and lip repairs, which sometimes include minor alteration to the tip if the nose.

How Do Cleft Lip & Palate Procedures Work?

Before surgery, your surgeon will likely want to perform some blood tests on your child. You will also be asked to refrain from giving him or her aspirin and other medications that reduce clotting for 10 days prior to surgery.

On the day of surgery, anesthesia will be administered to allow your child to sleep comfortably during the procedure, which will involve trimming away any excess tissue and closing the gap in the lip or palate. Dissolving stitches will be used to close the gap so they need not be removed later. The stitches will be kept as small as possible to minimize scarring. After waking from surgery, expect your child to spend 5 to 7 days in the hospital.

Before going home, you'll be shown how to keep the surgical site clean during recovery. The repaired areas should not be stretched or receive any pressure for a month after surgery and a liquid diet will be needed. Cleft lip repairs will need to be kept moist with ointment and your son or daughter will probably need to wear arm cuffs to keep them from picking at or touching the surgical site during healing. Hands and toys will both need to be kept out of the during recovery.

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