- Babies born early in the pandemic have developmental delays at 6 months, a small study suggests.
- The results held true regardless of the mom's COVID-19 status, surprising researchers.
- The babies' communication skills were elevated, though, and the findings don't mean lags will last.
Babies born early in the pandemic have slight delays in motor and social skills compared to those born right before the pandemic, according to a small study out of Columbia University.
The results, published Tuesday in JAMA Pediatrics, held regardless of whether the mom had COVID-19 during pregnancy.
The delays surprised researchers, who thought a mom's COVID-19 status, not a baby's birthday, would have more of an effect on child development since other types of infections are linked with neurodevelopmental deficits.
But the pandemic's effect on a pregnant person's stress levels could help explain the lags, which showed up as small shifts in averages, not higher overall rates, in some development scores, lead investigator Dr. Dani Dumitriu said in a press release.
"We want parents to know that the findings in our small study do not necessarily mean that this generation will be impaired later in life," Dumitriu said. "This is still a very early developmental stage with lots of opportunities to intervene and get these babies onto the right developmental trajectory."
Pandemic babies' communication skills were slightly higher
To conduct the study, researchers looked at questionnaires from parents of 255 babies born at two New York City hospitals between March and December 2020.
The questionnaires, completed when the babies were 6 months old, asked about communication skills ("does your baby make high pitched squeals?"), gross motor skills ("does your baby roll from his back to tummy?"), fine motor skills ("does your baby reach for a toy with both hands?"), problem-solving skills ("does your baby look for a toy that he drops?") and social skills ("does your baby smile and coo in the mirror?").
The researchers found lower average scores in gross and fine motor skills, as well as social skills, when compared to 62 6-month olds born at the same hospitals before the pandemic.
The pandemic babies' communication skills, interestingly, were slightly higher — another surprise given their likely interactions with masked adults.
Roseann Capanna-Hodge, a licensed professional counselor specializing in pediatric mental health, told Insider the findings underscore the effect of maternal stress on child development. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, she recommends moms and pregnant people add in simple stress-reducing lifestyle techniques like 10 minutes of breathwork a day.
As for the kids, remember that they learn through play, Capanna-Hodge previously told Insider. "When you're playing, you're teaching them problem-solving, you're teaching them social skills like paying attention to the other person's facial expression, you're teaching them how to wait their turn and how to handle frustration."