Preventing cleft lip and cleft palate

Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects of the mouth that form during early fetal development. Genetic mutations that cause cleft lip and cleft palate are not preventable. But pregnant women can take certain precautions to prevent environmental exposures that may increase the risk of having a child born with cleft lip or cleft palate.

  • Make sure your immunizations are up-to-date before you become pregnant.
  • Eat properly and take prenatal vitamins before and during pregnancy. Also take folic acid supplements as instructed by your doctor.
  • Reduce your risks for infections during pregnancy. Some infections can increase the risk that a fetus will develop cleft lip or cleft palate. For example, make sure all the meat you eat is cooked well. This practice can help keep you from getting toxoplasmosis, an infection that you can get from eating undercooked meat or from handling a cat or its feces.

If you are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant:

  • Do not take any medicines before first getting approval from your doctor. Some prescription medicines taken during pregnancy increase the chance that a fetus will develop cleft lip or cleft palate. Work with your doctor to find the right balance between your need for the medicine and the possible risks to the fetus.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking during pregnancy may raise the risk of having a child with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate.
  • Do not use any illegal drug.
  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Do not have medical tests that expose you to radiation.
  • Do not let yourself be around people who have infectious diseases, such as chickenpox.

Last Updated: January 21, 2010

Author: Debby Golonka, MPH

Medical Review: John Pope, MD - Pediatrics & Donald R. Mintz, MD - Otolaryngology

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