Columbia University scientists have published interim results from an ongoing study of maternal and child health in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. To assess how the pandemic has affected the development of babies born since 2020, experts conducted a survey of 596 women. They were divided into two key groups: those who had COVID-19 during pregnancy and those who managed to avoid infection. The control group included mothers with young children born before the pandemic.
Scientists did not notice any difference in developmental rates between infants whose mothers had COVID-19 and those who were not exposed to the virus in utero. They noted that this is very good news, as there are still concerns about the possible long-term consequences of such contamination. But at the same time, babies born during the pandemic showed lower indicators of gross and fine motor skills and socio-emotional development compared to children born before the onset of COVID-19. In particular, such babies interact worse with parents and other people.
“The first three years are critical for brain development, and not only their health is important, but also interaction with adults and other children. Babies need to be touched, held, smiled and talked to. When there is no such communication or it is not enough, the brain of the child does not develop properly, ”the scientists reported. According to them, during a pandemic, young children are in contact with far fewer people and see fewer faces due to the mask regime.
Another serious factor in emotional retardation can be parental stress or depression, when mothers simply do not have the strength and energy to fully communicate with the child, the authors of the study believe.
No less disturbing data was presented last year by scientists at Brown University: children born during the pandemic had a reduced level of intelligence. The lower was the level of the socio-economic status of the parents, the worse were the child’s intellectual, cognitive, verbal and motor abilities. Moreover, the average IQ of the participants did not exceed 78, while before the pandemic this indicator for American children was at least 100.
Experts believe that the delay in motor, cognitive and behavioral development of infants may be associated with increased levels of cortisol (stress hormone) during pregnancy.