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Thousands of U.S. Babies Born With Cleft Lip, Palate Each Year
Date:12/31/2012

to the March of Dimes. Some factors that have been associated with an increased risk for cleft lip and palate include changes in some genes, a deficiency of folic acid before pregnancy, taking certain medications while pregnant, drinking alcohol during pregnancy and having certain infections during pregnancy.

But the biggest risk factor linked to oral clefts is smoking during pregnancy. About one in five babies born with a cleft lip or palate is born to a mother who smoked, according to the March of Dimes.

Shin noted, however, that "sometimes you can do everything right, and you can still have a child with cleft lip or palate."

For babies born with a cleft lip or palate, surgery is the main treatment. For cleft lip, he said, surgery is generally scheduled when the child is about 3 months old. For a cleft palate, surgery is usually done at about 1 year old or slightly younger so that there are fewer issues with speech, he said.

"The sooner you can do the repair, the better babies heal," Shin said.

Besides the procedures to repair the cleft lip or palate, children often also need surgeries for ear tubes to keep their ears clear of fluids while the repair is healing. Depending on the severity of the cleft palate and how the initial surgery has healed, children sometimes need a second surgery on their palates when they're 3 to 7 years old, according to Swibel Rosenthal. Also, cleft lips sometimes require a second surgery to get a better cosmetic outcome, she said. Most kids also will need braces, she added.

"Parents shouldn't be nervous about these conditions," Swibel Rosenthal said. "Although they sometimes require multiple surgeries, there are ways to treat cleft lip and cleft palate that are simple, and children do very well."

Because cleft lip and palate can be genetic conditions, it's possible that subsequent pregnancies may result in another baby being born with cleft lip or palate, though the odds are relatively low
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