Summary: Babies whose mothers contracted COVID-19 during pregnancy had greater difficulties relaxing and adapting to their bodies during pregnancy than children whose mothers did not have COVID-19. In addition, children born to affected mothers had more difficulty controlling head and shoulder movements. The results suggest that prenatal COVID-19 infection may affect the development of motor function in babies.
source: European Psychiatric Association
Babies born to mothers who developed COVID-19 during pregnancy appear to show differences in neurodevelopmental outcomes at 6 weeks, according to a preliminary analysis presented at 30The tenth European Congress of Psychiatry.
Project lead Dr. Rosa Issa Areola said: “Not all babies born to mothers with COVID show differences in neurodevelopment, but our data show that their risk is increased compared to those who were not exposed to COVID in utero. We need a larger study to confirm the exact extent of the difference.”
Researchers have found that babies born to infected mothers show greater difficulties relaxing and adjusting to their bodies while they are held, compared to babies born to noninfected mothers, especially when the infection occurs in late pregnancy.
Furthermore, babies born to affected mothers tend to show greater difficulty controlling head and shoulder movement. These alterations indicate a possible effect of COVID-19 on motor function (motion control).
The results came from a preliminary evaluation of the Spanish COGESTCOV-19 project, which followed the course of pregnancy and child development in mothers with COVID-19.
The researchers provide data on pregnancy and postpartum assessment at 6 weeks after birth, but the project will continue to see if there are long-term effects. The group will monitor infants’ language and movement development between 18 and 42 months.
The preliminary assessment compared children born to 21 pregnant women with COVID and their babies, with 21 healthy controls at the University Hospital Marques de Valdesía in Santander, Spain.
The mothers underwent a series of tests during and after pregnancy. These included hormonal and other biochemical tests (measuring things like cortisol levels, immune response, etc.) saliva tests, movement responses, and psychological questionnaires.
All analyzes were adjusted for infant’s age, sex, and other factors.
Postnatal tests included the Newborn Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS), which measures the baby’s movement and behaviour.
Researcher Agueda Castro Quintas (University of Barcelona, Network Center for Biomedical Research in Mental Health) said:
“We found that some elements of the NBAS measure were altered in 6-week-old infants exposed to SARS-COV-2. They react slightly differently to being held or held.”
We have been particularly sensitive in how we conduct these tests. Each mother and child was closely examined by physicians with expert training in the field and in tests.
“We need to note that this is a preliminary finding, but this is part of a project that follows a sample of over 100 mothers and their babies. They are also monitored during pregnancy and after childbirth.”
“We also plan to compare these mothers and children with data from another similar project (the epi project) looking at the effect of stress and genes on a child’s neurodevelopment.”
Complete Agoda Castro Quintas:
“This is an ongoing project, and we are at an early stage. We found that babies whose mothers were exposed to COVID showed neurological effects at 6 weeks, but we don’t know if these effects will lead to any long-term problems, long-term monitoring may help us understand that.”
Co-researcher Nerea San Martin Gonzalez added:
“Of course, there are many things that we cannot measure in very young children, such as language skills or cognition. We also need to be aware that this is a relatively small sample, so we are repeating the work, and we will follow that up over a longer period. We need a larger sample to determine The role of infection in the neurodevelopmental changes of the offspring and the contribution of other environmental factors.
“In the meantime, we need to stress the importance of medical monitoring to facilitate a healthy pregnancy, and discuss any concerns with your doctor when necessary.”
Commenting, the project leader, Dr. Rosa Issa Areola, said:
“This is the right moment for international collaborations that will allow us to assess the long-term neurodevelopment in children born during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research in this area is vital in understanding and preventing potential neurological problems and mental health vulnerabilities in these children in Next years “.
In a separate comment, Dr. Livio Provenzi (University of Pavia, Italy):
There is a great need to study the direct and indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health and well-being of parents and infants. Pregnancy is a period of life that makes up much of our later development, and exposure to adversity during pregnancy can have long-lasting biological effects.
“These findings from Dr. Rosa Issa Areola’s group reinforce the evidence for epigenetic changes in infants born of mothers who experienced epidemic-related stress during pregnancy. It shows that we need more international, large-scale research to allow us to understand the developmental implications of this health emergency, and better quality care for parents and infants.”
Dr. Provenzi was not involved in this work.
NB: The epi project is a multicenter project that includes the Hospital Clinique in Barcelona and the Hospital Universitario Central de Asturias. Researches the effects of genes and stress on a child’s outcome. It is led by Prof. Dr. Lord Vananas.
Financing: This research was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, Instituto Salud Carlos III through a multicentre project of the University of Barcelona – Internal Grants (SAM15-20PI12 and SAM18PI01) – PI L. Fañanas and the Government of Cantabria (INNVAL20/02) -PI R. Ayesa. The authors have no conflict of interest regarding the development of this study and the publication of the results.
About this COVID-19 and neurodevelopmental research news
author: Tom Parkhill
source: European Psychiatric Association
Contact: Tom Barkhill – European Psychiatric Association
picture: The image is in the public domain
original search: Results will be presented at 30The tenth European Congress of Psychiatry.