Cleft Lip and Palate: An Informational Guide

A brief overview of cleft lip and palate — the condition, its challenges, treatment options, and links to online resources for further reading.

Cleft lip and cleft palate are common congenital defects that occur very early in pregnancy. When the tissue of the lip does not join together properly, a separation – or cleft – develops between the two sides of the lip. Similarly, a cleft palate occurs when the two sides of the palate – or roof of the mouth – fail to fuse, causing a split or opening. Because the lip and the palate develop separately, a child may be born with a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both cleft lip and cleft palate.

Holt sees a broad range of cleft lip and palate cases among children we place for adoption. Some children have already had surgery to repair the condition, and will require little follow-up medical care. Other children will require more involved care once home with their adoptive family. Children with minor cases of cleft lip and palate are often matched with families already in process, and never appear on the photolisting! When families fill out the medical conditions checklist at the beginning of the adoption process, they can identify both the condition and degree of need they are open to – from minor to moderate to major.

Madelyn Portie, born with cleft lip and palate, adopted by Keith and Melissa Portie.


Infants with cleft lip and/or cleft palate may require specially designed bottles and nipples to help alleviate feeding problems. Prone to fluid build-up in the middle ear, children with cleft palate are at increased risk of ear infections as well. Hearing loss can be a consequence of repeat ear infections and persistent middle ear fluid. Some children may require speech therapy to resolve speaking difficulties caused by their clefts. Children with this condition are also more prone to a higher incidence of cavities and other dental issues.

Wyatt Seeling, born with unilateral cleft lip, adopted by Derek and Carol Seelig.


A cleft lip can usually be repaired in the first few months of life, and may require one or two surgeries. Repair of a cleft palate often requires multiple surgeries – with the first typically occurring when the baby is between 6 and 12 months old. The doctor performing the surgeries determines the timing of these repairs, depending on the baby’s health and any future development concerns.

For children born with cleft lip and/or cleft palate, an interdisciplinary team of specialists typically works together with the family to manage the child’s care. Treatment usually begins in infancy and often continues through early adulthood. Depending on the child’s individual needs, a cleft lip and palate team may include everything from a plastic surgeon to evaluate and perform necessary surgeries, to an ear, nose and throat doctor, oral surgeon, orthodontist, and audiology and speech specialists to help resolve any speech and hearing problems.

Hannah Barnette, born with cleft lip and palate, adopted by Liz and Jason Barnette.


For more information on cleft lip and cleft palate, visit:

The Cleft Palate Foundation: The Cleft Palate Foundation provides information about clefts and other craniofacial abnormalities. Includes information about cleft professionals and local support groups.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

American Academy of Otolaryngology


Family Stories

Check out these stories from Holt families who have adopted children with cleft lip and/or palate:

Cleft Lip and Palate? No Big Deal.

Goodbye, Cleft Lip…I’m Going to Miss You

Special Needs? Or Just Special?

A “Perfect” Adoption


Sources:, WebMD

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