An American research study involving 255 infants born between March and December 2020 found that there were no neurological problems on the behalf of babies born to mothers who had suffered COVID-19 during their pregnancies. However, all infants born during that period had significantly lower scores on gross motor, fine motor, and personal-social subdomains compared with a historical cohort of infants born before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has long been noted that fetal exposure to diseases and certain substances in utero can alter brain development resulting in long-term vulnerability for neurodevelopmental and psychiatric problems. Although transmission of COVID-19 from mother to fetus is rare, data from prior human coronavirus outbreaks (SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome) suggest that severe infection during pregnancy may be associated with issues for maternal health and increased risk for several adverse infant outcomes. Other viral illnesses during pregnancy are associated with higher risk for neurodevelopmental deficits, including motor delays, as in the case of in utero HIV-exposed uninfected infants. Cohort studies of the generation born during the 1918-19 Spanish Flu pandemic found lower child educational level attainment and adult socioeconomic status. The 1964 rubella pandemic led to a 10- to 15-fold increase in autism spectrum disorder or schizophrenia in offspring.
The COVID-19 study was called the “COVID-19 Mother Baby Outcomes (COMBO) Initiative”, and was conducted at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Spring 2020 to examine associations between in utero exposure to maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection and the health and well-being of both mother and children living in New York City, the first USA pandemic epicentre.
The study found there were no significant group differences between exposed and unexposed infants in terms of their ASQ-3 skills. The ASQ-3 is a validated, widely used, standardized, screening tool based on parental report that reliably assesses five key developmental domains: communication, fine and gross motor, problem solving, and personal-social skills. However, all infants born during this timeframe showed significantly lower scores on gross motor, fine motor, and personal-social subdomains compared with a historical cohort of infants born before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The researchers hypothesized that COVID-19-related stress has impacted infant development. Reported stressors include parental job loss, food insecurity, and loss of housing. Lockdowns have resulted in significant increases in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Data from numerous other studies have demonstrated that prenatal perceived stress, loneliness, and objective stress, especially during early pregnancy, are associated with an increased risk for adverse neurodevelopment in children.
You can find this study, called “Association of Birth During the COVID-19 Pandemic With Neurodevelopmental Status at 6 Months in Infants With and Without In Utero Exposure to Maternal SARS-CoV-2 Infection,” HERE.
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