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Our pediatric specialists provide more than just surgery for a baby's cleft lip.

Expectant parents wait for their child’s first smile. When your child is born with a smile that looks a little different, it can be scary and overwhelming. Our experienced teams of specialists work together in coordinated, one-day team appointments, to repair a baby's cleft lip and guide parents along each step of the medical and emotional journey.

Cleft lip repair at Shriners Children's is done by our trained pediatric surgeons. Other members of your child's care team, such as speech therapists, audiologists, dentists and dental radiologists, know how to care for any related needs and concerns with a child's teeth or hearing, and you'll work with them as needed, to help your child born with cleft lip reach their full potential.

Cleft lip can be caused by a combination of genetic and/or environmental factors. It is often diagnosed on ultrasounds of expectant mothers but sometimes it doesn't become apparent until a child is born. Whatever the cause or time of diagnosis, the plastic surgeons and specialists at Shriners Children’s are available to provide comprehensive cleft lip repair and care for your child.

Our doctors also can meet with expectant parents prior to delivery to share more about our approach to cleft lip repair, providing information and reassurance to help parents know what to expect after delivery and in their baby's first few months with a cleft lip.

About Cleft Lip

A cleft lip occurs when the lip does not properly form as the fetus develops in the womb. A newborn’s smile with a cleft (split or divided) lip will have an opening in their upper lip that may extend into their nose. In some cases, the lip and the gum line may both have a cleft (known as an alveolar cleft). Cleft lip may be unilateral (affecting one side of the lip) or bilateral (both sides).

Many babies born with cleft lip also have an opening in the roof of their mouth called a cleft palate. Cleft lip, with or without cleft palate, occurs in about 1 in 1,000 babies and it's much more common in boys than girls.

Shriners Children's pediatric surgeons and specialists focus exclusively on children and understand how growth and development impact the outcomes for a child's appearance and function. Learn more below about our treatment approach for a cleft lip and the types of surgeries your child may need if they're born with a cleft lip.

Specific treatments and services may vary by location. Please contact a specific location for more information.

Cleft Lip and Palate & Craniofacial Care at Shriners Children's

Facial clefts are the number one craniofacial birth defect addressed by our patient and family-centered teams, led by our board-certified plastic surgeons. The cleft teams at Shriners Children's understand that the repercussions of cleft lip and cleft palate often run much deeper – affecting breathing, hearing, speaking and eating. It is common for self-esteem and emotional health to be impacted as well.
View Transcript

Fran Farley:

Shriners Children's is an internationally recognized leader in treating cleft lip, cleft palate, and other craniofacial anomalies. Our family-centered approach celebrates the journey of each and every patient, inviting the family to collaborate with specialists, crafting the best treatment plan for their child. We are committed to excellence with a dedication to medical and clinical research that helps provide the latest technology and treatment options for patients.

Eric Liao:

The cornerstone of cleft care is really the two parts of multidisciplinary care and longitudinal care. I think Shriner's, given its history and infrastructure and tradition of taking care of complex pediatric disorders, is really good at both of those things. When a family comes, it's a very family-centered experience where the family will meet every specialist. The focus then is to give the patient the best advice and best surgical planning going forward. The family will meet a plastic surgeon that was specialized to the repair of the lip and palate. For example, the oral maxillofacial surgeon that will deal with bone grafting and the orthodontist. In addition to the physicians and surgeons, the patient will also meet a speech therapist, nutritionist, social workers, pediatricians, if necessary, and the sociologists. Really unique to have all the specialists here in one day for that visit.

Fran Farley:

Shriners Children's understands that cleft lip and cleft palate, as well as other craniofacial conditions present unique characteristics and challenges.

Jennifer Woerner:

Cleft lip and palate in this country runs about one in six to 700 live birth. It's usually a random occurrence. We don't know why it happens necessarily. I think when they come in prenatally and they hear that, they learn that it's really nothing that they've done or anything they could have prevented. It's just something random that happened and now they're here as a part of our family to help them take care of it. We see children from all ages, newborn all the way up until about 18 years of age, when they go to college. I tell all our patients and our families that if you have a child who is born with a cleft, they're part of my family till they go to college. I can't keep them after that, but at least till 18 they're mine.

Fran Farley:

Each child is met with respect, compassion, and a forward looking approach that supports the best quality of life for the child, by achieving the best possible medical outcome. I encourage parents and caregivers to explore the treatment options Shriner's Children's offers. Learn about our innovative approach to medicine and our internationally recognized doctors. I truly believe there isn't a healthcare system out there like ours.

The difference between the Shriner Children's cleft team and other teams, is the love they incorporate into their care for your child.
Tammy, Chicago

Our Treatment Approach for Cleft Lip

Cleft lip surgery can correct the separation and improve a child’s facial appearance. Typically children with just a cleft lip that is not combined with a cleft palate, will need to have between one and three surgeries to repair their cleft lip.

Because a baby's face has many complicated structures, evaluation and treatment involves the close cooperation of a number of medical and dental specialists, including:

Understanding Cleft Lip Surgery

Initial Repair

Cleft lip by itself may only require one operation when a child is a baby: the cleft lip repair surgery. Children with only a cleft lip may have limited problems with their speech and hearing. A Shriners Children's plastic surgeon will perform a cleft lip repair shortly after birth, usually when a child is 3 to 4 months old.

After cleft lip repair surgery, babies wear elbow immobilizers for two weeks so they cannot touch their face, and they consume a liquid diet. A nurse/nurse practitioner will teach you how to care for the repaired cleft lip and the stitches that are in place. Over-the-counter pain medicine is typically used as instructed by your child's care team.

Babies usually see the surgeon for a follow-up appointment two weeks after surgery. Soft foods are typically added back into the baby's diet after that visit.

Additional Surgeries

Some children, school age or older, may benefit from a scar touch up procedure (lip revision surgery) or a surgical procedure to help the appearance of their nose (rhinoplasty).

Patients who have a cleft palate in addition to a cleft lip, will need additional procedures and services as they get older.

Children with a cleft in their lip and gum (alveolar cleft), may benefit from a bone graft procedure at age 8 or 9. The procedure replaces missing bone in the upper gum and helps support the child’s teeth.

Services We Provide

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Dental Radiology

Shriners Children's offers dental radiology which uses painless X-ray machines such as pan ceph and CBCT, to show surgeons 3D views of a child's jaw bone, teeth and other facial structures. This helps with evaluation and treatment planning.

Psychiatry & Psychological Services

Our psychologists at Shriners Children's specialize in evaluating and providing support to children and their families who are adjusting to a new diagnosis or having difficulty in their everyday lives due to trauma.

Facial and Dental Imaging

Shriners Children’s offers specialized facial and dental imaging (X-rays) for children with craniofacial differences. The painless process helps surgeons and doctors understand each child’s unique facial anatomy to plan treatment.

Ear, Nose, Throat Services

Ear, nose and throat services, known as ENT, involve the care and treatment of a range of head and neck disorders. Many craniofacial conditions treated at Shriners Children's also involve ENT specialist care.

Speech Therapy

The speech therapy services available to patients at Shriners Children’s benefit children from birth through adolescence who have difficulties with communication and swallowing.


Shriners Children’s offers a multidisciplinary team to address your dental concerns related to a variety of craniofacial conditions. Our specialists will evaluate your child and provide an individualized care plan.

Care Management

The care management team at Shriners Children's consists of registered nurses and social workers who act as resources for families throughout their plan of care.

Child Life Services

Child life professionals at Shriners Children’s take pride in focusing on the "above and beyond" aspects of medical care for our patients. From procedure support to camps, they are ready to advocate for your family.

Next Steps

Request an Appointment

Families and caregivers seeking treatment should start by contacting us for an appointment.

Log in to the Patient Portal

Parents and guardians of existing patients can email, request records, schedule appointments and more.

Refer a Patient

Physicians and healthcare providers can request appointments, start transfers or contact us with questions.