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Inherited Disorders and Birth Defects

Cleft palete



What would your chances of having a child with a cleft palete be if the mother had one and 2nd cousin on the mother side had it? Is there any thing you can do to help prevent this from happening?


Usually, isolated (no other birth defects present) cleft palate is due to a combination of genetics and environmental factors. The chance it could happen again is based on many factors including the number of affected persons in the family, the sex of the child and the closeness (blood relation) of affected relatives. This type of inheritance is called multifactorial inheritance.

If cleft palate is the only birth defect in the child and there are no other family members with it, the chance to have a child with cleft palate if the mom has one is about 3-4%. If another person - such as the other parent or a sibling is affected as well, the chance to have another affected child is higher - 15% - since there are two closely related people affected. However, in the case that you describe, the chance is probably not much different from the 3-4% since a second cousin on the mother’s side is “further away” in the number of genes shared.

There are also many syndromes that have a cleft palate as part of the syndrome. The inheritance in this case would be very different from that of an isolated cleft palate. It is important that babies with a cleft palate be examined by their doctors to look for other birth defects.

Researchers do not know much about how to prevent clefts, such as a cleft palate. However, some studies suggest that taking multivitamins containing folic acid before conception and during early pregnancy may help prevent a cleft from happening. It is recommended that all women of child bearing age take a daily multivitamin so that they are getting the recommended amount of folic acid to prevent some birth defects.

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Response by:

Anne   Matthews, RN, PhD Anne Matthews, RN, PhD
Associate Professor of Genetics
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University