Cleft lip and palate repair


A cleft lip and palate repair is a surgical procedure to repair birth defects of the upper lip and roof of the mouth. A cleft lip is an abnormal opening in the middle of the upper lip. A cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth (palate).

Cleft lip repair is usually done within 6 to 12 weeks of age. Cleft palate repair is generally postponed until later to take advantage of the palatal changes that occur with normal growth. Most surgeons repair a cleft palate between 9 months to 1 year before the child develops faulty speech habits.

While the baby is anesthetized and asleep (general anesthesia), the tissues around the defect are trimmed and sewn together with several layers of stitches (absorbable sutures). The skin is sewn together with very small, fine stitches (sutures) to make the scar as small as possible. In cleft palate repair, tissue from the roof of the mouth may be shifted over to cover the deficient soft palate. Occasionally more than one surgery is required for complete palate closure.

Cleft lip repair and cleft palate repair are indicated for:

  • repair of physical deformity  
  • nursing, feeding, or speech problems resulting from cleft lip or palate

Risks for anesthesia are:

  • reactions to medications  
  • breathing problems

Risks for surgery are:

  • bleeding  
  • infection

Expectations after surgery
Most babies heal without complications. The cosmetic result often depends on the severity of the deformity and is usually quite good.


The average hospital stay is 5 to 7 days. Complete recovery may take up to 4 weeks. Some children continue to have speech defects after the surgery because of muscle problems in the palate. Speech therapy is then required.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Martin A. Harms, M.D.

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