As expectant parents, you will witness a host of milestones and markers as your child grows in the womb. It can be nerve-wracking to discover a deficiency like a cleft lip at a prenatal checkup. Yet it is crucial to learn as much as you can about cleft lips and their treatment, before birth so that you can make vital decisions that will affect your baby's overall health once they enter into the world. An early ultrasound is a common way for a child's cleft lip to be discovered.
Cleft Lip Ultrasound
You may be asking, "when can you tell if your baby has cleft lip from an ultrasound?" And while there isn't a special cleft lip ultrasound, according to Mayo Clinic, a routine prenatal ultrasound can detect most (but not all) cases of a cleft lip as early as 13 weeks into pregnancy.
What Is a Cleft Lip?
A cleft lip involves an opening in the mouth that starts from the upper lip and can lead up to one or both nostrils. According to the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, this deficiency affects roughly one out of every 700 births, with about 80% occurring in males.
If the signs of a cleft lip appear in your baby's ultrasound, amniocentesis may be your next step for diagnosis. The amniocentesis procedure involves a doctor taking a sample of the amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus in your uterus. Testing the fluid for a potential inherited genetic syndrome that could have caused a cleft lip allows you to confirm that the baby does have a cleft lip.
While the exact cause of a cleft lip is unknown, it usually develops from a complex combination of genetic and environmental variables, such as diabetes, certain medications, and smoking during pregnancy. If a baby carries a cleft-causing gene from either parent, along with an environmental trigger, this combination can interfere with the proper formation of the baby's lip. Your doctor may also refer you to another specialist for additional ultrasounds and diagnosis.
Surgery to repair the cleft lip will usually take place in a child's first year of life. Your child will go under general anesthesia while having their cleft lip repaired, which will alleviate any pain from the surgery. They will stay in the hospital for one or two nights and have swelling around the mouth and nose for several days.
While learning that your child will need to undergo surgery at such a young age is never easy, an ultrasound diagnosis helps you feel more in control of the situation. You can get a jump start talking to specialists, getting comfortable with surgeons and doctors, and scheduling upcoming procedures and appointments. Another reason the discovery of a cleft lip during an ultrasound is important is that it gives you time to speak to your support system, like friends, family, and caregivers, about what to expect once your child is born and how best they can assist you.
Thanks to modern technology, you can see a cleft lip in an ultrasound relatively early in your pregnancy and begin taking the necessary steps towards surgery. Determining that your baby has a cleft lip is the first significant step of this journey, but you may have more questions about your child's overall health after birth and before surgery. You can learn more, like tips for breastfeeding a child with a cleft lip and the critical relationship between a cleft palate and your child's teeth.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.