For the first time, Call the Midwife has introduced us to a newborn with a cleft lip and palate.
Little Baby Kirk needs a lot of care and attention when he comes into the world, and his mum Betty Marwick (Lisa Ellis) is overwhelmed. Even the midwives are unsure how to react, with Nurse Valerie Dyer (Jennifer Kirby) borrowing medical textbooks to read about the condition.
So how was this episode filmed – and what are the details of this condition? Here’s what you need to know…
Did Call the Midwife use a real baby with cleft lip?
No. While Call the Midwife usually recruits real babies to play newborns on the show, in this particular case they had an animatronic baby made for close-up shots. CGI was also used to make the scenes more realistic.
Dr Turner actor Stephen McGann explains: “That is animatronic. That’s a wonderful piece, like we did with the thalidomide baby. That was a very, very clever piece of a melding of CGI and of a real baby.”
He adds: “The effects are so amazing now. And I’m still amazed by them. So you’re able nowadays with the technology to show the immediacy of it… The immediacy of a problem like that in the face of a mother – and do it justice. And that’s where the relative cheapness of the technology, and the brilliant talent of post-production people, really benefits drama now.”
What is cleft lip and palate?
When a baby’s face doesn’t join together properly during development in the womb, they can be born with a cleft lip and palate. A cleft lip is a gap in the upper lip, while a cleft palate is a gap in the roof of the mouth which leaves an opening into the nose.
The severity can range: some babies will be born with a small split to the lip or an opening at the back of the mouth, while others will be born with a wide gap reaching up to the nose or a split running all the way along the roof of the mouth.
For newborns, cleft lips and cleft palates can cause serious issues, including difficulty feeding (because they cannot form a good “seal” on a nipple or teat with their mouth) as well as hearing problems, dental problems and speech problems.
Surgery to correct a cleft lip is usually carried out between three and six months, while cleft palates are repaired at 6-12 months.
The surgery may leave a small pink scar above the lips, but most children treated for cleft lip or palate are able to lead completely normal lives once the issue is corrected.
In the UK, cleft lip and palate is the most common facial birth defect, affecting around one in every 700 babies.
Call the Midwife continues on Sundays at 8pm on BBC1