TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Across eight studies focused on how COVID-19 impacted infant health and development, a meta-analysis found the pandemic virus led to higher risks of babies developing a variety of neurodevelopmental disorders.
According to the analysis, mothers who contracted COVID-19 while pregnant were at a higher risk of mortality and severe morbidity from the virus. Previous research, published in June 2022, reported a 3% increased risk of neurodevelopmental diagnoses.
Now, the risk factor has been shown to be increased, according to the review of the eight studies examined. For children born to mothers who had COVID while pregnant, the risks also increased for disorders like “autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder,” as well as an increased risk of “heterogeneous causes associated with impaired cognition, communication, adaptive behavior, and psychomotor skills.”
The analysis of the eight studies included research in the United States, China, Kuwait, and Canada. In total, 21,419 infants were examined via neurodevelopmental screenings. Of the infants examined, 11,438 were screened during the COVID-19 pandemic, while 9,981 were screened in the pre-pandemic period.
The data from the studies showed that infants who were screened during the pandemic had a 7% higher risk of NDIs. For infants who were born to mothers with confirmed COVID-19 during their pregnancy, the same risk of disorders developing was increased to 12%.
Babies born during the pandemic but whose mothers did not have COVID-19 had a 9% higher risk of developing an NDI. The study said that even without COVID-19 infection, the pandemic increased the risks of a neurological disorder for infants.
According to the analysis and systematic review, “analyses of individual domains of development revealed infants screened during the pandemic were more likely to be at risk of communication impairment compared with their pre-pandemic counterparts.”
The study also found that COVID’s effect on behavior during the pandemic could have had an impact on neurological development.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, financial strain, social isolation, and decreased family support have been associated with increased maternal depressive and anxiety symptoms in the perinatal period, which are known to be associated with neurodevelopmental and behavioral disorders,” the analysis said.
Research by the American Psychological Association showed the stress impact was high on Americans during the COVID pandemic. While their study found that pandemic lockdowns themselves did not have mental distress due to lockdowns so much as dealing with the virus personally.
“Participants who responded that they had contracted COVID-19 in the first six months of the pandemic were the most likely to report poor mental health,” the APA reported. “Knowing someone who died because of COVID-19 or someone who had contracted COVID-19 were also significantly related to distress, loneliness and symptoms of traumatic stress.”
The APA also reported that more hours spent watching “pandemic-related media coverage was also significantly related to increased symptoms of distress over time.”
Essentially, the stress of the pandemic and its impacts on parents’ mental health have seen some correlation with risk of developing an NDI in children.
“Higher levels of COVID-19–related stress were reported for both mothers and fathers of infants aged 0 to 6 months and were associated with insensitive parenting practices,” the analysis said. This includes a “decreased emotional responsiveness in only mothers, which could lessen the reciprocal exchanges that support language development in early childhood.”