An orofacial cleft occurs when parts of the lip or palate do not completely fuse together during the first three months of pregnancy. A cleft lip may appear as a small notch in the edge of the lip only or extend into the nose. It may also extend into the gums.
A cleft palate may also vary in size—from a defect of the soft palate only to a complete cleft that extends through the hard palate. Because the lips and the palate develop separately, it is possible for a child to be born with a cleft lip only, cleft palate only, or both.
Diagnosing a Cleft Palate
For the most part, because a cleft lip is visible, it is often easier to identify than a cleft palate alone. A cleft lip may be detected through prenatal ultrasound; however, diagnosing a cleft palate this way is more difficult, and it might not be seen.
Even if a cleft condition is detected during pregnancy, the diagnosis and extent of cleft lip and palate are confirmed by physical examination after the birth of the child.
Sometimes a cleft may be associated with environmental factors such as a woman’s use of certain medications while pregnant.
A Cleft Palate Can Be Linked to Prescription Drugs
In recent studies, researchers have discovered that the use of prescription drugs such as antidepressants and anti-seizure medications taken during pregnancy may cause cleft lip and other birth defects. Fifty percent of the women taking the medications were not notified that the drugs they were taking put their babies at risk for birth defects.
If your child was born with a cleft lip or another birth defect, a medication such as Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, Lexapro, Topamax, or Depakote may be to blame.