Home Health Born during the pandemic: thus isolation and maternal stress harm children

Born during the pandemic: thus isolation and maternal stress harm children

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Could the stress experienced by expectant mothers during the pandemic affect the neurodevelopment of children? This seems to emerge from a research published in Jama Pediatrics, Babies born during pandemic’s first year score slightly lower on a developmental screening test, signed by a team from Columbia University.

The study looked at 255 babies born at NewYork-Presbyterian’s Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and Allen Hospital between March and December 2020. The researchers analyzed the responses to a questionnaire that pediatricians provided to parents to assess aspects of development. of children concerning communication and fine (small movements) and gross motor skills (control of larger muscles), problem-solving and social skills.

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The data revealed that children born during the pandemic reached, at six months, a lower level on screening tests for the development of social and motor skills, compared to children born shortly before the lock down, regardless of whether the their mothers had contracted Covid during their pregnancy.

Dani Dumitriu, first study signer, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians is surprised at the result. The study was in fact started to highlight a possible neurodevelopmental deficit in children born to mothers who had contracted the virus during pregnancy. But it was not so.

Pre- and post-pandemic infants

No link was found between the status, timing or severity of maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection and infant neurodevelopment at the age of 6 months. No differences in scores were found between infants who were exposed to the virus in utero and those born during the pandemic whose mothers did not contract the coronavirus during pregnancy. However, mean scores among children born in full lockdown were lower than the motor skills and social skills of 62 babies born pre-pandemic in the same hospitals.

We are not talking about significant delays, but small shifts in mean scores between groups that still deserve attention because, at large numbers and population levels, they can have a significant impact on public health.

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During the first wave of Covid, in early 2020, Dumitriu led a group of pediatric researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian in organizing studies on the impact of the virus on children. In the first research it was found that mothers did not pass the virus to the fetus (thesis later questioned).

On the other hand, there are many studies on the risk of delays in the neurodevelopment of children with mothers affected by viral diseases during pregnancy: the activation of the woman’s immune system influences the development of the fetus’ brain. With millions of babies who may have been exposed to Covid in utero and mothers subjected to the stress of the pandemic, it is crucial to understand the effects of neuro-development on future generations.

How much does the stress related to Covid affect

An Italian study, published in the medical journal Journal of Affective Disorders in early December 2021, highlighted how anxiety and very high stress due to Covid can negatively influence the mother’s prenatal attachment process to the child.

Dumitriu argues that it is possible that the stress caused by the pandemic and experienced by mothers during pregnancy is related to the slight decline in motor and social skills of the children born at that time. Previous studies have already shown that maternal stress in the early stages of pregnancy can have a greater effect on the socio-emotional functioning of little ones. Babies whose mothers were in the first trimester of pregnancy at the height of the pandemic had the lowest neurodevelopment scores.

But be careful, we must also keep in mind that the questionnaires on which the newly published study was based were drawn up by the parents in the first six months of the child’s life and therefore in full Covid scenario. Thus, it could also have been some unobjective perceptions of the parents that provided a negative distorted picture of the child’s abilities.

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The importance of the first six months of life

A very interesting study, which takes into consideration the impact of the pandemic on the development of the child from pregnancy to the first six months of life. And it is precisely on those six months that the attention of the Dr. Rosa Maria Quatraro, psychologist, psychotherapist who has worked for more than twenty-five years in the prenatal field, director of the editorial series of Maternity Psychology and manager of the maternity center in difficulty.

“The impact of Covid on the experiences of pregnant women is undoubtedly of great importance, but it is equally relevant how mothers experienced the ‘after birth’, the assistance they received – explains the psychologist. In Italy there are many public and private services dedicated to perinatality, which during the pandemic have become difficult to access. Women, who already physiologically in postpartum feel a strong need for practical help and emotional containment, have felt completely isolated, there was still no talk of vaccines, they found themselves at home alone, separated from their loved ones for fear of contagion. Practical and social support is essential in this phase of the life of the woman and the family, it makes the woman feel thought of, assisted, helped and this allows her to care your child with greater peace of mind “.

The pandemic has stopped everything, especially in the beginning. “Many women have had ultrasound scans, monitoring, visits alone, have given birth without the presence of their husbands, have been detained at home, deprived of such important aids in this phase – explains Dr. Quatraro – and they are not just variable. that in the first months after childbirth physical, visual and emotional contact between the newborn and the mother is essential. If the anxieties and worries are excessive, the mother’s mind is stautra and less willing to be in emotional contact with her baby. the first year of the pandemic we all breathed the atmosphere of death that hovered, including new mothers, and for many it was not easy to live pregnancy and postpartum while maintaining the necessary serenity to be able to cope with the great practical and emotional demands that the arrival in these ’emergency’ situations maternal stress levels increase and this can also have an impact on the child whose development in this first f ase of life strictly depends on the mother / father environment that surrounds it. By now the literature agrees in affirming that the emotional condition of the new mother can have an impact on the emotional, social but also neurological development of the child. An isolated mother, gripped by anxieties and fears, struggles to be a safe base for her baby “.

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Exposure to Covid during pregnancy is undoubtedly an important variable that may have led to the consequences on neurodevelopment identified in the research, but the emotional impact that isolation and stress related to the pandemic may have produced on the mother relationship should not be overlooked. -baby in the first six months of life. The results of the study are important: slight delays, made up over time, but which must be taken into consideration because they open up further research on the impact of Covid on the development of new generations as well as investigations on the interaction mechanisms between maternal stress and neurodevelopment.

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