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Studies show developmental setbacks in pandemic babies | My Baby My Star

During the first three months of Luca Bustamante’s life, he spent all his time at home with his mother and father. Like other parents of babies born during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mia Bustamante and her husband decided to limit attendance and avoid large crowds. Luca eventually met his grandparents and then other family members, but interaction remained limited, Bustamante says.

“We were so cautious for two years, even when I was working in healthcare and doing rotations through ERs,” says Bustamante, who recently became a physician assistant. Just before she was due to return to work and take Luca to daycare, she and her husband contracted COVID and suspect their baby may have contracted it too. “We made it, we made it, and we felt better about socializing,” she says. Now that they’ve developed antibodies, they’re seeing friends and family more often so their baby can interact with other people.

For a newborn, the first three years of life are crucial for brain development; and babies need to feel safe and secure, to be held, spoken to, smiled at, and played with, says Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician at Harvard Medical School the important thing is to interact with them – when exactly the opposite is the case.”

The daily requirement of, say, working from home or juggling other tasks involving infant interactions can have an impact. “Chances are they can’t do everything babies need for optimal development,” she says of parents in this situation.

A decline in development skills

With daycares closed, grandparents self-quarantining, and parents keeping babies home for their safety, infants born during the pandemic have had limited contact with anyone but their parents. Those attempting to work from home while caring for an infant may have relied more heavily on supports like bouncy seats and limited play areas to keep their babies safe. Two separate studies found that children showed delays in the development of social-emotional and motor skills compared to babies born before the pandemic.

Lauren Shuffrey, an associate research scientist, emailed colleagues at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center in March 2020 while she was in labor with her own child. “We started the study when the pandemic was happening,” she says. Researchers wanted to measure whether babies born to mothers who contracted COVID-19 during pregnancy showed developmental delays at 6 months of age.

While they found no difference in reaching developmental milestones between the babies whose mothers had COVID during pregnancy and those who did not, the babies born between March and December 2020 performed worse on fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and social emotions their peers before the pandemic development, the Columbia study published in January concluded JAMA. Both fine and gross motor skills showed the greatest decline.

Researchers employed the widespread Age and Development Questionnaire. The standardized screening tool is based on a parent’s observations assessing five key developmental areas. The researchers found no difference between babies born before or during the pandemic in terms of problem-solving and communication skills, says Shuffrey, the lead investigator.

In a Brown University study that is peer-reviewed but pre-printed medRxiv, researchers found similar results: Babies under 1 year old born in 2020 and 2021 performed worse than their pre-pandemic peers on fine and gross motor skills, verbal and general cognitive development. Brown University and Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School have had a longitudinal study underway since 2009 in which researchers interact with babies and toddlers in the room with a parent and measure a variety of developmental skills through an observational test called the Mullen Scales of Early Learning.

Lead author Sean Deoni, associate professor of pediatrics and diagnostic imaging at Brown’s medical school, says he was surprised by the results. He would have expected delays in language and social skills, but not motor skills, he says. But it adds up when you think about how people are avoiding playgrounds, playgroups and family gatherings, as well as the lack of “all the relatives who want to show up and play with them and hug them,” Deoni says. Kids don’t see other kids, he adds, “and they just don’t roll on the floor and play.”

Some are also wondering if babies in the hospital were affected by the encounters with strangers wearing masks. “I think when you put these studies together, they make the same story,” he says. “Those early basic abilities are affected.”

Researchers don’t know what this means in the long term for a generation of more than 2 million babies born worldwide during the pandemic, and if they can make up for lost time. The Brown researchers have continued to track babies born during the pandemic for the past six months, and the downward trend continues, he says.

What can parents do?

Many studies have shown that parental stress during pregnancy and a baby’s early years affects brain development, says Amanda Dettmer, a neuroscientist and researcher at the Yale Child Study Center.

“Infants and children, these are sponges. They pick up on the mood of their parents and caregivers,” says Dettmer. When it comes to caring for children as the pandemic lingers, she suggests the airline analogy, where parents are advised to put on their own oxygen masks first. “If you’re stressed and that stress comes out, your child can absolutely pick that up.”

When the idea of ​​self-care seems impossible, McCarthy suggests taking small steps, such as: B. taking your baby for a walk, calling a friend, or even doing some yoga exercises with your baby on the floor nearby. Parents who are feeling anxious or sad could ask their GP for a referral to a therapist, she says. Parents experiencing financial stress can ask their family doctor or their child’s pediatrician for helpful resources.

For mammals, especially primates like humans, infants’ most important relationship is with their primary caregiver, Dettmer says, so spending the first year of life in isolation in a loving, safe home should be okay. “Babies, especially under a year old, really need routine, safety and security. They need to know that they have caregivers, mom and dad, grandparents, a day care worker,” she says, “who will address their emotional needs.”

Not all babies have these ideal conditions. In the Brown study, children whose mothers had higher education, who lived to term, and were of a healthy weight performed better overall than their classmates. Mothers with a lower level of education may not have the opportunity to work from home, and with daycares closing early in the pandemic and later reopening at partial capacity, quality and affordable daycare has been scarce, the study said.

Low-income people have also suffered higher rates of illness and death, job losses and financial distress, and are more likely to work in jobs that expose them to the virus. So this study is another sign that the pandemic is having a more damaging impact on low-income households, Deoni says.

He adds that it’s important to remember that these developmental delays aren’t the parents’ fault. But he also worries that people will lean too much on the notion that kids are resilient and just bounce back. “We are talking about the impact of the first 1,000 days,” he says. “Do we really want to put an entire generation on the idea? [that] Children are resilient?”

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