1. What is cleft?
Cleft, short for cleft lip and palate, is one of the most common birth defects in the world. The name of our organization, “Deutsche Cleft Kinderhilfe”, translates to German Cleft Children’s Aid Society.
Children with cleft lip and palate are born on every continent in the world. Worldwide, it is thought that on average one of every 500 to 600 children born is born with cleft. Certain risk factors make cleft more likely in some regions than in others. For example the likelihood of a child having cleft is thought to be slightly higher in Asia and slightly lower in Africa.
“Harelip” or cleft?
The cleft lip was long colloquially known as the harelip. In German, the cleft palate was also known as a “Wolfsrachen”, a wolf’s maw. This sort of animal imagery is perceived as degrading by many patients with cleft lip and palate. These terms should therefore no longer be used to describe cleft lip and palate.
The term harelip can be found in old medical books from the 15th century. The association was not limited to the superficial visual resemblance of some clefts to a to a hare’s upper lip. There also was the superstition that cleft lip was caused by a pregnant woman having looked at or thought of a hare. Fortunately, this superstition was eventually overcome, but even in 1805 a doctor was forced to point out that if the superstition were true, the wives of hunters and butchers should have nothing but children with cleft, which was demonstrably false.
The term harelip however lasted much longer in colloquial and even medical usage and unfortunately is sometimes still used today. It should be avoided in favor of the correct terms “cleft lip” and / or “cleft palate”. You can read more about this topic in our article.