Compared to those born before March 2020, the children displayed slightly lower scores on motor and social skills but not on communication or problem-solving skills.
On Tuesday, the pediatrics journal JAMA published a study by Columbia University researchers showing that babies born in 2020 scored slightly lower on a developmental screening test of social and motor skills at 6 months. These results occurred regardless of whether their mothers got COVID-19 or not.
The pediatricians studied 255 babies who were born at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and Allen Hospital in New York between March and Dec. 2020. The scientists carried out this analysis since it is known that infants born to mothers who have viral infections during pregnancy have a higher risk of neurodevelopmental deficits.
Nevertheless, "we were surprised to find absolutely no signal suggesting that exposure to COVID-19 while in utero was linked to neurodevelopmental deficits," lead researcher Dani Dumitriu said, as cited at the website of Columbia University Irving Medial Center (CUIMC).
“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,” he added.
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Although the differences in the mean scores of children born before and after the pandemic are small, the scientists cautioned that the small changes observed in samples deserve attention because they could be significant at the population level.
“The developmental trajectory of an infant begins before birth. With potentially millions of infants who may have been exposed to COVID in utero, and even more mothers just living through the stress of the pandemic, there is a critical need to understand the neurodevelopmental effects of the pandemic on future generations,” said Dumitriu, who is a pediatrician at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital.
Scientists pointed out that the results do not imply that the 2020 generation will have problems later, since the babies are in a very early stage of development. Besides, the pediatricians will monitor the development of these children in the coming months.