Your child may have “inherited” his cleft lip and palate from the genes of one or both parents. But other factors may also have occurred during the pregnancy to cause it. The exact cause of a cleft lip and palate often remains unknown.
Genes are the smallest unit of heredity. Heredity is the passing of genes from one generation to the next. Each cell in the human body contains genes. Genes contain the "blueprint" for everything in our bodies, such as our height, hair color, skin color and eye color. Genetic inheritance means that a child’s features are "inherited" (passed from parent to child) from both parents. There are two types of inheritance:
- In single gene inheritance, a feature appears as a result of a single gene carried by one parent.
- In multifactorial inheritance, a feature appears as a result of a number of genetic and nongenetic factors.
A geneticist is a doctor who studies genes. The geneticist or genetic counselor on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Craniofacial team can help you try to find the reason for your child's cleft lip and palate. Your geneticist may need to:
- Examine you and/or your family members
- Take X-rays and conduct genetic tests
- Ask you for a detailed family medical history
- Ask you for a detailed pregnancy history
After your geneticist completes such studies, he will talk to you about the possible cause(s) of the cleft lip and palate. Your geneticist will also discuss your risk of having another child with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate.
Sometimes, groups of problems appear together in newborn babies. These groups are called syndromes. A cleft lip and/or palate may be only one part of a larger syndrome. Like a cleft lip and palate, a syndrome may be the result of single gene or multifactorial inheritance.
Your geneticist will consult other members of the Children’s Craniofacial team to learn if your child has other problems that suggest a syndrome. This will help the geneticist tell you more about the risk of a cleft lip and palate in children you may have in the future.