What causes cleft lip and cleft palate

It can be genetic or triggered by substances

In Summary

• Some people inherit it while others incur it based on what pregnant women consume 

A cleft lip patient at Makueni Referral Hospital
A cleft lip patient at Makueni Referral Hospital
Image: FILE

The cause of lip and palate deformities remains a mystery among medical experts. However, it’s highly suspected to be among the conditions that are genetic and hereditary.

Caroline Kiptanui 35, took her baby Aaron, two for free surgery courtesy of Bela Risu Foundation and Global Cleft Charity Smile Train where he was among 52 beneficiaries. She said her child’s father had cleft lip and cleft palate.

She had delivered him at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Eldoret, in 2019. Three months later, the cleft palate was corrected through another free surgery.

“I had to wait for it to properly heal before a second one today to reconstruct the cleft lip, which I really appreciate and am overjoyed as my son can grow and live a normal life,” Caroline said.

Her husband’s deformity was corrected while still a baby and he has lived a normal life since then.

“When I gave birth to Aron in mid 2020 and discovered he has a cleft lip, I knew the problem was genetic, having inherited from the family,” Caroline said.

The deformity has been recorded multiple times among members of her husband's family lineage in Sergoit, Elgeyo Marakwet county.

Statistics indicate that 1 in 1,000 children have cleft lip and cleft palate at birth.

Lincent Jeptoo, 27, from Simat village, Uasin Gishu county, also linked the phenomenon to genes. She had the cleft lip and cleft palate of her five-month-old daughter, Shains Kepkosgei, corrected at Nandi Hills Hospital.

When she went into labour and was taken to Kisor Maternity Healthcare, little did she know she would deliver a baby with a split lip and palate.

“I had noticed some family relatives had problems with speech,” Lincent said.

Nandi Health executive Ruth Koech.
Nandi Health executive Ruth Koech.


Volunteer surgeon Dr Mahabubur Khan says the deformity can also arise from cigarette smoking, alcohol and the use of certain substances by pregnant women.

“The use of certain drugs used to control seizures among patients suffering from epilepsy has also been found to be behind tissue refusal to fuse together during foetus development in the womb,” he says.

Environmental effects are also to blame to some extent. Nandi Hills medical superintendent Dr Joseph Kangor notes that certain food consumption during pregnancy could trigger the health problem.

“Pregnant women must be careful with what they consume, while those aware of the existence of the deformity within their own or husband's family lineage should inform health workers during routine clinic visits,” he says.

With the proper utilisation of the ultrasound technology, the foetus development to the baby’s birth would be well monitored.

Nandi Health executive RuthKoech added that pregnant women suffering from diabetes or obesity also have a higher chance of delivering babies with the deformity, as it could be caused by medicines used to control their health conditions.

“The best period for a good corrective surgery is within three to six months of the life of a baby," she said.

For cleft palate, it should within 18 months after birth for the repairs to successfully take place.

Khan says the surgery has many benefits. “These include improved appearance of the surgical scar and improved nasal symmetry without the placement of any nasal suture,” he says.

Edited by T Jalio

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