Cleft Palate

Children with a cleft palate are unable to suck properly, which makes breastfeeding very difficult or impossible. They usually need to be bottle fed, with either breast milk or formula, using special nipples. You may need to try a variety of nipples and bottles to find what works best for your baby. A nurse from the Craniofacial Anomalies Center will meet with you as soon as possible after your baby's birth to develop a successful feeding plan. It's important to bring your baby to the pediatrician for weekly weight checks to make sure he or she is gaining enough weight.

Surgery is necessary to repair the cleft. Since ear infections are more common in children with cleft palate, we recommend a hearing test to determine whether ventilating tubes, which may reduce the risk of ear infections, should be placed in the ears at the time of palate surgery. In addition, an eye examination is usually recommended because eye anomalies are sometimes found in children with cleft lip and palate.

The surgery is generally performed when the baby is around 10 months old or starting to make sounds of speech. The procedure usually takes two to three hours, with the baby staying in the hospital one to two nights. Although speech is usually normal after cleft palate repair, some children need speech therapy and possibly a second palate surgery. Most children will need orthodontic treatment with braces in early adolescence.

A child with a cleft palate may encounter social and emotional challenges unique to this condition. Support organizations and resources are available for children with clefts and their families.

Because this birth defect may have a genetic link, families may be referred to the Medical Genetics and Genomics Clinic for counseling.

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Craniofacial Center
1825 Fourth St., Fifth Floor, 5C
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 476-2271
Fax: (415) 476-9513
Appointment information