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Babies exposed to COVID may have slower neurodevelopment

Babies who were exposed to COVID in the womb appear to have different neurodevelopmental outcomes than non-exposed infants at six weeks of age, according to research that was presented at the 30th European Congress of Psychiatry.

“Not all babies born to mothers infected with COVID show neurodevelopmental differences, but our data shows that their risk is increased in comparison to those not exposed to COVID in the womb,” explained project leader Dr. Rosa Ayesa Arriola.

The babies of infected mothers found it more challenging to relax. They also had more difficulty controlling their head and shoulder movements.

“We found that certain elements of the NBAS [Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale] measurement were changed in 6-week-old infants who had been exposed to the SARS-COV-2 virus. Effectively they react slightly differently to being held, or cuddled,” explained Águeda Castro Quintas 

The researchers recognize that their sample size of 21 exposed infants and 21 non-exposed infants is small. They are also aware that a longitudinal study is needed.

“Of course, in babies who are so young there are several things we just can’t measure, such as language skills or cognition,” said Nerea San Martín González. “We also need to be aware that this is a comparatively small sample, so we are repeating the work, and we will follow this up over a longer period. We need a bigger sample to determine the role of infection on offspring’s neurodevelopmental alterations and the contribution of other environmental factors.”

The study is part of a larger project, and the researchers plan to collaborate with other projects. 

“We need to note that these are preliminary result, but this is part of a project following a larger sample of 100 mothers and their babies. They have also been monitored during pregnancy, and after birth,” said Quintas.

“We also plan to compare these mothers and babies with data from another similar project (the epi-project) which looks at the effect of stress and genetics on a child’s neurodevelopment.”

The researchers believe this study will help to inform how we treat affected individuals as they grow. 

“Research in this field is vital in understanding and preventing possible neurological problems and mental health vulnerabilities in those children in the coming years,” said Arriola.

By Erin Moody , Staff Writer

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