Scientists from the United States found that babies born during the first year of the pandemic performed slightly worse on social and motor skills tests in their first six months – regardless of whether their mothers contracted Covid-19 during pregnancy or not.
A team of researchers led by Danny Dumitriu, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry of the Columbia University College of Medicine and Medical Center in New York, published their findings in the American Journal of Pediatrics (JAMA Pediatrics).
The researchers focused on a group of mothers, half of whom were infected with Covid-19 at some stage of pregnancy, but most often suffered from the disease with mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
Scientists know from previous experience that babies from mothers infected with the virus during pregnancy are generally at greater risk of neurodevelopmental disorders due to activation of the maternal immune system, which in turn can adversely affect fetal brain development. The question that scientists had to answer was whether something similar happens to the children of women who have undergone covid while carrying a child.
The new study found no difference in test results between babies exposed to coronavirus in the womb and babies born to mothers not infected with Covid-19. However, the average development of babies born during the pandemic (regardless of whether their mother was previously infected with the coronavirus) was slightly worse than 62 children born before the pandemic (control group) in the same US hospitals.
“Babies who developed in the womb during the pandemic showed slightly lower rates after birth in areas such as social and motor skills. These data suggest that the tremendous stress experienced by pregnant women during this unprecedented period of the pandemic could play a role, ”said Dimitriu.
“Although there were no large differences from child to child or even higher rates of actual developmental delay in our sample of several hundred children, even these small changes require a lot of attention from specialists, because at the population level they can have a significant impact on public health ( knowledge of scientists from research conducted during other pandemics and natural disasters). With millions of babies potentially exposed to Covid-19 in the womb, there is a vital need to understand the nervous system impact of the pandemic for future generations. ”
However, the scientist noted: “We do not want parents to perceive the results of our small study, which indirectly indicate that this generation of children will have problems at a later age. This is still very conjectural data, and it is too early to talk about the results.”
The researchers believe that the psychological stress pregnant mothers experience from the pandemic explains why their babies often show decreased social and motor skills on tests. Previous research has shown that maternal stress in early pregnancy has a greater effect on infants than in later stages. A new study showed something similar: Babies whose mothers were in the first trimester of pregnancy at the height of the pandemic showed lower scores on neurodevelopmental tests.
Aside from stress, other factors that may play a role (isolation, quarantine) is that children growing up during the pandemic were likely to have fewer opportunities to play with peers and parents under constant stress.