Study: Babies born during COVID-19 pandemic have lower cognitive scores

Aug 17, 2021, 4:25 AM | Updated: 8:47 am
Medical workers administer a rapid Covid-19 test to a baby in the agricultural community on Februar...
Medical workers administer a rapid Covid-19 test to a baby in the agricultural community on February 17, 2021 in Immokalee, Florida. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Babies born during the pandemic have significantly lower cognitive, verbal and motor skills than children born before the pandemic, according to a new study by Brown University.

Researchers who worked on the study found babies from lower socioeconomic families are affected the most. They attributed the lower scores to what babies are seeing from their parents during the pandemic.

The fear of getting infected with COVID-19 and losing their jobs placed stress on many parents. Those who worked from home also faced challenges as they tried to balance work and taking care of their children. For pregnant women, the fear of attending prenatal visits increased their level of stress, anxiety and depression.

Dr. Sean Elliott, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Tucson Medical Center, agreed with the researchers’ reasoning.

“If their parents or caretakers are stressed, anxious or worried about trying to make ends meet, the kids are going to pick up on that,” he told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“Babies are super, super smart,” Elliott added. “They will pick up on both verbal and visual cues that we might not notice as adults but they do.”

The study also pointed to limited interaction with other children and the outside world as another cause for the reduced cognitive, verbal and motor skills among babies born during the pandemic.

“Understanding these factors is critical to helping ensure affected children rebound as the pandemic winds down and they re-enter daycares and schools, as well as implementing additional public health and educational policies that address the most affected of children, particularity those in lower-income families,” the authors of the study wrote.

Elliott said it’s unclear how much of an impact this will have on babies as they grow older, but he pointed to research that looked at how babies born right after the Sept. 11 attacks were affected as an example of what could happen.

“There was noted emotional and cognitive challenges in young children and babies due to their parents’ concern caused by that horrible day,” he said. “So it makes sense that there will be some long-lasting impacts [for babies born during the pandemic]. But nobody yet knows how significant those are going to be.”

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Study: Babies born during COVID-19 pandemic have lower cognitive scores