New Study Reveals Effect Of Pandemic On Babies
Baby hand on mother hand - stock photo Close up of 4 month old baby boy hand on mother hand. Flavia Morlachetti via Getty Images
Flavia Morlachetti via Getty Images

A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics showed the effects of pregnancy during the pandemic on babies.

Researchers discovered that babies born during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic received lower scores on a developmental screening test of motor and social skills at six months of age.

The study included 255 infants born at hospitals in New York between March and December of 2020. The data came from questionnaires given to parents by their children’s doctors in order to look at the development of their baby and was compared to babies born at the same hospitals before the pandemic.

The researchers found that babies whose moms were pregnant with them during the pandemic had moderately lower scores in motor and social skills, but not in other areas such as communication and problem-solving.

The study included mothers who were infected with COVID-19, but there appeared to be no effect on babies whose mothers had COVID during pregnancy compared to babies whose mothers did not.

“We were surprised to find absolutely no signal suggesting that exposure to COVID while in utero was linked to neurodevelopmental deficits. Rather, being in the womb of a mother experiencing the pandemic was associated with slightly lower scores in areas such as motor and social skills, though not in others, such as communication or problem-solving skills. The results suggest that the huge amount of stress felt by pregnant mothers during these unprecedented times may have played a role,” said Dani Dumitriu, MD, PhD, lead researcher of the study.

The report also pointed out that the researchers didn’t measure the mothers’ stress during their pregnancies, but other studies have found that stress early in pregnancy can have a larger impact on socioemotional functions in babies than stress that happens later on in pregnancies.

The study backed up that idea as well.

According to the report, “Infants whose mothers were in the first trimester of pregnancy at the height of the pandemic had the lowest neurodevelopment scores.”

The report pointed out that other elements could have also contributed to the results.

“Other factors, including fewer play dates and altered interactions with stressed caregivers, may help explain why babies born during the pandemic have weaker social and motor skills than babies born before the pandemic,” it noted.

While the effects of these findings are important to learn, researchers point out that they shouldn’t cause alarm. The report stressed that the differences weren’t of a huge magnitude, but were rather little changes. The babies in the study will also continue to be studied in a long-term format.

“We want parents to know that the findings in our small study do not necessarily mean that this generation will be impaired later in life,” Dumitriu said. “This is still a very early developmental stage with lots of opportunities to intervene and get these babies onto the right developmental trajectory.”

Dr. Dumitriu also recently posted on Twitter, describing ways parents can start helping their babies. This included taking action like singing and reading to them, spending lots of time with them unmasked and face to face, and taking the baby outside in safe ways.

She also pressed that babies’ brains are “very malleable at this age and they can easily catch up!”

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