fl7_cleft_palateThe Cleft Palate–Craniofacial Journal – Becoming a new parent is always stressful—it changes an adult’s entire world. People assume that the stress is heightened when a baby is not perfectly normal, but researchers wonder if that is really the case.

The current issue of The Cleft Palate–Craniofacial Journal presents a study related to single-suture craniosynostosis (SSC), a birth defect that causes a space between the bones of an infant’s skull to close early. The infant usually undergoes surgery to correct the deformity. The authors of the study examined whether the baby’s unusual head shape and lengthy surgery boosted parents’ stress levels and whether coping techniques should be emphasized when caring for such families.

At birth, bony head plates are separated to allow room for the rapid brain growth that happens in the first years of life. The sutures, or places where these plates come together, usually close by the time the child is 2 or 3 years old. When a child has SSC one of these gaps closes early, giving the baby an abnormally shaped head. If untreated, the deformity can become permanent and cause increased pressure in the head, seizures, and developmental delays.

In a multiyear study, researchers surveyed 500 mothers and 430 fathers. About half of each group had healthy infants; the other half had a child with SSC. All completed the same survey about the stress they felt as a parent.

The researchers speculated that with this particular deformity, stress levels would increase as months passed and the effects of the early surgery became clearer. Instead, they found few differences in the stress levels of parents involved in the study.

When the babies were about 9 months old, parents of affected infants reported more stress related to their child’s needs compared with parents of unaffected infants. These differences disappeared over the next two surveys, when children were about 18 and then 36 months old. However, mothers generally reported more stress than fathers when it came to spousal support and other factors that affected their relationship as parents. Over the months studied, mothers increasingly felt this stress, regardless of the health of the child.

The authors concluded that the health of the children in this study had relatively little effect on parental stress. All parents felt the same general stresses that come with the birth and early life of a child. The authors suggest that the current family-centered care received by infants with SSC may help set parents at ease, and they noted relative stability among the families that participated in the study. They wrote that “on average, parents of infants with SSC are doing about as well as parents of typically developing babies.”

Full text of the article “Longitudinal analysis of parenting stress in mothers and fathers of infants with and without single-suture craniosynostosis,” The Cleft Palate–Craniofacial Journal, Vol. 52, No. 1, 2015, is now available at http://cpcjournal.org/doi/full/10.1597/13-239.

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About The Cleft Palate–Craniofacial Journal

The Cleft Palate–Craniofacial Journal is an international, interdisciplinary journal reporting on clinical and research activities in cleft lip/palate and other craniofacial anomalies, together with research in related laboratory sciences. It is the official publication of the American Cleft Palate–Craniofacial Association (ACPA). For more information, visit http://www.acpa-cpf.org/.