The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 in every 33 babies are born with a birth defect every year in America. Based on their estimations, cases involving cleft lip and cleft palate are among the most common. Trends point out that there are about 7,088 cases of these orofacial defects annually. Why is there a widespread occurrence of these specific birth defects? What causes a baby to be born with a cleft lip or cleft palate?


Birth defects result from complications that arise while a baby is in utero. With cleft lip and cleft palate, these complications happen as facial development is taking place. In particular, they happen when the tissues making up the lip and palate fail to fuse together properly. Babies born with a cleft lip can also have a cleft palate. Sometimes, a cleft palate patient can have only a small portion of their palates open.


Research led by the CDC found several possible factors that cause these orofacial defects. In these scenarios, the defects are commonly caused by changes in genes during fetal development. These changes are typically caused by environmental factors and dietary issues. Specifically, the CDC found that there is a strong correlation between smoking and cases of orofacial cleft. They also concluded that women with diabetes are more likely to give birth to children with a cleft lip or cleft palate than those without diabetes.


CDC’s research findings also pointed to the use of certain medications as a possible cause for cleft lip and cleft palate. In particular, they pointed to medicine for epilepsy used during the first trimester of pregnancy. A separate study conducted by College of Family Physicians of Canada found that the anti-nausea drug Zofran might also contribute in birth defects like orofacial clefts. In fact, Zofran attorneys of William Kherkher note on their website that they are currently investigating cases that establish links between the drug and cases of cleft lip and cleft palate.