Every year in the US, over 2,600 babies are born with a cleft palate and over 4,400 with a cleft lip. Typically clefts are isolated, occurring without any other defects. Cleft lip and palate develop early in pregnancy, when separate areas of the face begin to develop individually and then merge. Part of this process requires the left and right side of the mouth and lips to come together; when there is not sufficient tissue for these features to align properly, the result is a cleft.
Cleft lip or palate do not only affect the appearance of a child; the function of sucking to feed for a baby is essential for growth, connection to the mother and proper development, and much of this can be lost with a cleft. Further, speech impairment may result from the lack of mobility of the lips and mouth.