Mother-Infant Relationship

Are Infants with Orofacial Clefts at Risk for Insecure Mother-Child Attachments?

[Abstract] ((Catherine L. Maris et al. Are Infants with Orofacial Clefts at Risk for Insecure Mother-Child Attachments? The Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal. May 2000. 37(3):257‚ €265))
Objective: Several risk factors in the early lives of children with clefts are believed to interfere with their development of secure attachments to parents; however, this possibility has rarely been studied empirically. This study compared 12- and 24-month attachment classifications of infants with cleft palate (CP), infants with cleft lip and palate (CLP), and a comparison group of unimpaired infants (COMP).

Method: Twenty-two CP infants, 24 CLP infants, and 61 matched COMP infants were assessed at 12 and 24 months of age in an urban children’s hospital. At both visits, mothers and infants participated in the Strange Situation(1), which was videotaped and subsequently coded for patterns of attachment behavior.

Results: CP infants displayed a lower rate of 12-month attachment security than infants in the CLP or COMP groups. By 24 months, no diagnostic group differences in attachment classification were found. Stable 12- to 24-month attachment classifications were less likely in the CP group (36.3%) than in the COMP (62.3%) group. CP infants who were insecure at 12 months were more likely to become secure by 24 months than were CLP or COMP group infants.

Conclusions: In contrast to previous theory and clinical speculation, the facial appearance of infants with CLP does not appear to affect the early mother-infant relationship adversely. The infancy period is marked by attachment instability for infants with CP, who demonstrated lower-than-expected rates of security at 12 months. However, these problems resolved in nearly all cases by 24 months of age. Most infants with clefts emerged from the first 2 years of life with secure maternal attachments.

1. The ‘Strange Situation’ procedure examines an infant‚ response to a series of increasingly stressful separations from the caregiver.

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