Doctor at desk. Cleft palate symptoms.

Cleft Palate Symptoms

A cleft palate occurs when the tissue covering a fetus’ lip and/or palate fails to connect. While many children born with cleft palate receive surgery as an infant, it may be a few months before your doctor decides your child is ready. It can be easier dealing with a cleft palate if you already know what to expect from the abnormality. Here’s a look at the symptoms of a cleft palate. 

Visible Signs

The “palate” refers to the roof of the mouth -- both the bony part behind your teeth and the soft but muscular part behind that. The cleft may appear as an opening farther back in the mouth, or it could run as far as the nostril. These splits may be centered or tend toward one side.  

While cleft syndromes can be problematic in speech and swallowing, it can also be an embarrassing physical issue as well. Most surgeries are performed to such an extent that not only is the cleft invisible, but the scar as well after a few years. 

Swallowing Issues

One of the biggest concerns regarding a baby born with a cleft palate is whether he will be able to swallow. Often these infants cannot form suction sufficiently to pull milk from the breast. This might mean you need to pump your breast milk or bottle-feed your baby, making it easier for milk to flow and your baby to eat. 

You may notice that milk comes out of your baby’s nose during feedings. Although it can be scary, this is called nasal regurgitation and it is totally normal. Hold your infant upright and give him time to clear the milk from his passages. 

Submucous Cleft Palate

A submucous cleft refers to a cleft in the palate that is covered and therefore not visible, but still potentially problematic. Because of the tissue covering over a submucous cleft, it may be much later in your child’s life before you or your child’s doctor realize the cleft is there. While some of these clefts may cause very minimal issues, others can be more invasive. 

In addition to swallowing problems, children with an untreated submucous cleft may have speech issues. Due to the difference in the way the mouth and nose connect your child may have a nasally tone. If surgery is not recommended for your child, working with a speech language pathologist may help alleviate these problems. 

Ear Concerns

Ear issues often come in tandem with cleft palates. Children with undiagnosed submucous palates tend to have chronic ear infections or middle ear disease. Ear issues may be alleviated by putting in tubes during the cleft palate repair surgery. If you suspect your child has an undiagnosed cleft palate, talk to his pediatrician about getting a proper diagnosis and finding a good team to help your child conquer issues that can occur with a cleft palate of any kind.