Loading icon
Press enter or spacebar to select a desired language.
Health Information Center

Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate Repair

  • Rebecca J. Stahl, MA
Publication Type:


Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate Repair


Cleft lip and cleft palate repair are surgeries of the lip and the roof of the mouth. These repairs are 2 separate surgeries that are sometimes done together.

Surgery is usually done at a young age. Cleft lip repairs occurs most often at age 3 to 6 months. Cleft palate repairs occurs most often at age 9 to18 months.

Infant With Cleft Lip.

Nucleus factsheet imagehttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=46964696AS00006_ma.jpgAS00006_ma.jpgNULLjpgCleft lipNULL\\filer01a\Intellect\images\AS00006_ma.jpgNULL11NULL2004-03-232232804696_590600Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Reasons for Procedure

These surgeries are done to repair birth defects called cleft lip and cleft palate. A cleft lip is an open gap in the upper lip. A cleft palate is an open gap in the roof of the mouth. If left untreated, the child can have many complications, such as:

  • Ear infections—fluid is not able to drain properly from the ear
  • Hearing impairment
  • Speech problems
  • Dental problems such as missing or malformed teeth
  • Feeding difficulties—A baby with a cleft lip may have a hard time sucking. A cleft palate can cause milk or formula to enter the nasal cavity.

The goals of cleft lip repair are to:

  • Close the separation in the lip.
  • Create a curve in the middle part of the upper lip.
  • Create the right amount of distance between the upper lip and the nose.
  • Allow the lips to close with a tight seal.

The goal of cleft palate repair is to have the palate area function normally. This includes proper development of the teeth and jaw, as well as speech.

Possible Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your child's doctor will review potential problems, like:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Scars not healing correctly
  • Reaction to the anesthesia
  • Damage to nerves, blood vessels, muscles, or lungs

Additional birth defects may put your child at a higher risk for complications.

Be sure to discuss these risks with the doctor before the surgeries.

What to Expect

Call Your Child’s Doctor

It is important to monitor your child's recovery. Alert your child's doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your child's doctor:

  • Bleeding
  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Irritability
  • Refusal to drink
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, or bleeding or discharge from the incision site
  • Cough or shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • New or unexpected symptoms

Call for emergency medical services or go to the emergency room right away for:

  • Signs of dehydration—little or no urination, sunken soft spot on head in babies, no tears when crying, dry and cracked lips
  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Blue or gray skin color
  • Not waking up or not interacting

If you think your child has an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.

Prior to Procedures

Your child will need to have an empty stomach before surgery. Make sure you get specific instructions about when to stop feeding your child.

In the time leading up to the surgeries, the doctor may have your child wear a device called an obturator. The device fits inside the mouth. It may help your child during feedings and help to keep the arch in the lip.

Your child will be treated by a team of specialists. The doctors will:

  • Order tests such as blood tests, urine tests, and x-rays
  • Ask about your child’s medical history and do a physical exam
  • Give you a chance to ask questions about the surgeries and recovery process




  • Cleft lip and cleft palate surgery. American Society of Plastic Surgeons website. Available at: https://www.plasticsurgery.org/reconstructive-procedures/cleft-lip-and-palate-repair. Accessed September 5, 2019.
  • Cleft lip and palate. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/cleft-lip-palate.html. Updated October 2014. Accessed September 5, 2019.
  • Rosen H, Barrios LM, Reinisch JF, Macgill K, Meara JG. Outpatient cleft lip repair. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2003;112(2):381-387.
  • What to expect: cleft lip surgery. University of Missouri Children’s Hospital, Pediatric Plastic Surgery website. Available at: https://www.muhealth.org/conditions-treatments/pediatrics/pediatric-plastic-surgery/cleft-lip-and-palate. Accessed September 5, 2019.


  • Donald W. Buck II, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.