Taking care of a child with cerebral palsy (CP) may be a heavier burden for mothers than for fathers, according to a new study.
The special needs of kids with cerebral palsy require a great amount of parental investment, which can be stressful and take a lot of time. Indeed, previous studies have shown that mothers of children with special needs are more likely to take longer sick leaves from their jobs compared to other mothers, possibly due to psychological problems.
To investigate whether having a CP child affected the long-term sick leave of parents over time, researchers analyzed data from mothers who gave birth between 2001 and 2005 in Norway (202) and fathers (593) of the children. Long-term maternal and paternal sick days before and after the birth of a CP child was compared with those of matched control groups who had a child without special needs over the same period.
Results showed that taking care of a child with cerebral palsy influenced maternal sick-day absence from work, especially during the first year of the baby’s life. On average, the level of sick time of mothers with a child with CP and spina bifida was greater by 35 days than that of mothers caring for a child without special needs. This was even greater than the sick leave of mothers of children with Down syndrome, who had, on average, 26 more sick days.
In comparison, on average, the number of sick days was similar between fathers with or without a child with special needs after birth.
Together, these results support the idea that the responsibility of caring for a child with special needs falls predominantly on the mothers.
“We cannot be completely sure that the increased sickness absence is caused by the caring burden, however the results are in line with previous research showing that mothers caring for a child with special needs are at substantial risk of a long-term sick leave due to psychiatric disorders,” the researchers wrote in their report. “There is [reason] to suggest that intensified care burden affect mother’s health, which in turn will increase long-term sickness absence.”
“In terms of specialized services and support programs, the findings of this study imply that the mothers of a child with special needs require support from the time the child is very young,” the team added. “The society should support caregivers and recognize their efforts in caring for their child so that the parents enjoy dignity and integrity.”
Clinicians and special services should focus on aspects that promote health among these mothers, such as social support and access to resources and benefits, the authors said.