July is National Cleft and Craniofacial Awareness and Prevention Month, a chance to improve and raise awareness about orofacial clefts. In the United States has approximately 2,650 babies are born per year with a cleft palate and 4,400 are born with a cleft lip. A cleft lip happens during mid pregnancy when body tissue and cells from each side of the head grow towards the center of the face, causing the babies lips to not join before birth, usually an open space between the lips and nose due to lack of tissue. A cleft palate is also formed during mid pregnancy; however, the tissue that makes up the roof of the mouth does not join together completely leaving some babies with front and back parts of the palate open. Both defects leave babies with feeding restrictions, breathing, and problems speaking clearly.
To help reduce a woman’s risk for having a baby with an orofacial cleft or other craniofacial condition, health care providers should encourage patients who are thinking about becoming pregnant to commit to a healthy lifestyle such as monitoring diabetes and to quit smoking. CDC and its partners are working to better understand the preventable causes of clefts and craniofacial defects. You could also donate to organization Smile Train, an international children’s charity that provides free cleft repair surgery and cleft care to children in over 80 countries! Surgeries are recommended to take place within the first 12 months of life, but the organization works with youths with clefts as well.