Children born in a pandemic have weakened cognitive abilities, study shows

Children born during the COVID-19 pandemic show reduced cognitive abilities compared to children born before 2020, according to some new research.

It’s stress, not infection

This conclusion was reached, among other things, by a study published on January 4, 2021 in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

In this study of 255 infants born between March and December 2020, exposure to maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection was not associated with differences in any of the tests. However, both exposed and non-exposed infants born during this period had significantly lower scores in gross motor, fine motor and personal-social subdomains compared with the group of infants born before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Infants of mothers who had a viral infection during pregnancy have a higher risk of neurodevelopmental deficits, so we thought we would detect some changes in the neurodevelopment of babies whose mothers had COVID-19 during pregnancy,” she told New York Presbyterian Danny Dumitriu, an assistant professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, is the lead researcher in the study.

“We were surprised to find absolutely no signal to suggest that exposure to COVID-19 during pregnancy was associated with neurodevelopmental deficits. Instead, staying in the womb of a pandemic survivor was associated with slightly lower outcomes in areas such as motor and social skills, but not in others such as communication skills or problem solving. “The results suggest that the large amount of stress that pregnant mothers felt in these unprecedented times may have played a role.”

Significant cognitive retardation

A new study, recently published on the MedRxiv platform, found that babies born in pandemics achieved almost two standard deviations lower in cognitive development tests (similar to intelligence tests) than babies born before the pandemic. Babies from low-income families with lower socio-economic status, boys were more affected than girls, and gross motor skills were most affected.

In their conclusion, scientists from the Advanced Baby Imaging Laboratory at Rhode Island Hospital point out that since the first reports of the new coronavirus in 2020, public health organizations have advocated for preventive policies to limit the spread of the virus, including rules for staying home, closing non-essential businesses, kindergartens, schools and playgrounds and restricting children’s learning and typical activities.

Fear of infection and possible job loss have led to stress for parents; while parents who were able to work from home faced challenges at work at the same time and giving full attention to childcare. For pregnant women, the fear of prenatal visits to specialists has also increased stress, anxiety and depression. As expected, all of the above is a cause for concern about how these factors, as well as missed educational opportunities and reduced interactions, stimuli and creative games with other children, could affect children’s neurodevelopment, the authors write in the introduction.

“Using a large continuous longitudinal study of childhood neurodevelopment, we examined general cognitive outcomes in childhood 2020 and 2021 compared to those of the previous decade, 2011-2019. We found that children born during a pandemic had significantly reduced verbal, motor, and overall cognitive performance compared to children born before a pandemic. In addition, we found that male children in families from lower socio-economic classes were most affected. “The results show that even when there was no direct infection with SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, the environmental changes associated with the pandemic significantly and negatively affected the development of infants.”

Stress due to the risk of infection in pregnant women

One of the factors that may have contributed to the increase in stress in pregnant women in a pandemic is the fact that research has shown that COVID-19 can be risky for women who become pregnant shortly before infection.

For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, women who are pregnant or have recently become pregnant are at increased risk for severe COVID-19.

“Severe illness means you may need to be hospitalized, go to intensive care or put on a respirator to breathe easier. Pregnant women with COVID-19 are also more likely to give birth before 37 weeks of gestation (preterm birth) and may be at increased risk for problems such as miscarriage.

In addition, black or Hispanic pregnant women appear to be disproportionately more affected by COVID-19 infection. Pregnant women who have some underlying health problem, such as diabetes, may be at an even higher risk of developing severe COVID-19.

Some research suggests that pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to have a preterm birth and a caesarean section, and that their babies are more likely to be admitted to the neonatal ward, according to experts from the Mayo Clinic.

Will there be generations damaged by the pandemic?

Because research on the impact of the pandemic on infant development has just begun, it is difficult to draw unequivocal conclusions. Among other things, the problem is that babies conceived and born in a pandemic could be exposed to a variety of conditions. For example, it is known that some parents who had the opportunity to work from home had more time to take care of their children, while other parents who did not have such a privilege had less time for their children and were exposed to higher levels of stress. . On the other hand, as already mentioned, some parents have had to balance their work responsibilities with caring for their children while working from home.

According to the study authors, the pandemic also showed that it affected members of different socio-economic classes differently. Those in higher education generally had more opportunities to work from home and were also less likely to be fired during a pandemic. In other words, members of the upper socioeconomic classes and their children were exposed to lower levels of stress than members of the lower classes. Also, some children got more opportunities to spend more time with their siblings at home, while other children did not have such an opportunity, but were lonely.

However, some experts believe that many children who are currently showing developmental delays will eventually be able to achieve this delay without lasting consequences.

“I do not expect to know that there is a generation affected by this pandemic,” Moriah Thomason, a child and adolescent psychologist at Grossman University School of Medicine in New York, told Nature.

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