COVID: The pandemic has reportedly affected the brains of newborns

Babies born during the height of the pandemic appear to suffer small but significant delays in motor and social development, a new study reports.

A study conducted by JAMA Pediatrics sought out to understand if a maternal coronavirus infection may have affected an infant's neurodevelopment. Infants were at particular risk if their mothers were in the first trimester of pregnancy during the spring of 2020, during the first lockdown, and if the mother suffered from severe COVID symptoms.

255 infants enrolled in a study on the effects of COVID-19 on infant health. Of the babies who were born between March and December 2020, 114 had been exposed to COVID in utero, and 141 had not. The research shows that being infected with COVID-19 during pregnancy is not the cause of developmental delays. Senior researcher Dr. Dani Dumitriu, a paediatrician at Columbia University in New York City, said:

We really looked at it from every angle, and there was absolutely no signal. Maternal COVID-19 during pregnancy did not affect any outcome we looked at, not even slightly.

Rather, it is more likely that the stress of pandemic confinements is to blame, Dumitriu theorised. Stress causes the body to release different hormones and immune system compounds, which can reach the foetus.

The analysis of this study revealed that babies born during the pandemic in which the mother has suffered stress had significantly lower scores in gross and fine motor skills and in personal and social development, compared to babies born before the arrival of COVID-19. Dumitriu added:

The earlier the stress happens in pregnancy, [the greater] the likelihood that it will reverberate throughout development. These children are likely to outgrow these developmental delays, which were noted when they were 6 months old, as they get older.

Parents who are concerned that the pandemic may affect their newborn's development should strive to interact as much as possible with their child. They should spend a lot of time talking, singing and interacting with their newborn, including plenty of face-to-face time. Dumitriu added:

I always emphasise the importance of not wearing a mask when they are indoors, so the baby can see the whole face of mum and dad and other close family members. The more time babies spend face-to-face, the more social functioning, language and emotional regulation they learn.
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