Babies exposed to COVID in the womb show neur
According to a preliminary analysis presented in the 30e European Congress of Psychiatry.
Project leader Dr Rosa Ayesa Arriola said: “Not all babies born to COVID-infected mothers show neurodevelopmental differences, but our data show that their risk is increased compared to those who are not exposed to COVID in the womb. We need a larger study to confirm the exact extent of the difference”.
Researchers have found that babies born to infected mothers have more difficulty relaxing and adjusting their bodies when held, compared to babies born to uninfected mothers, especially when infection occurred late in life. pregnancy. Additionally, infants born to infected mothers tend to show greater difficulty controlling head and shoulder movements. These alterations suggest a possible effect of COVID-19 on motor function (movement control).
The results come from an initial evaluation of the Spanish COGESTCOV-19 project, which followed the course of pregnancy and baby development in mothers infected with COVID-19. The researchers present data on pregnancy and postnatal assessment at 6 weeks after birth, but the project will continue to see if there are longer-term effects. The group will monitor infant language and motor development between 18 and 42 months.
The initial assessment compared babies born to 21 COVID-positive pregnant women and their babies, with 21 healthy controls attending the Marqués de Valdecilla University Hospital in Santander, Spain. The mothers underwent a series of tests during and after pregnancy. These included hormone tests and other biochemical tests (measuring things like cortisol levels, immunological response, etc.), saliva tests, movement responses, and psychological questionnaires. All analyzes were adjusted for infant age, sex and other factors.
Postnatal tests included the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS), which measures the baby’s movements and behavior.
Researcher Ms Águeda 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 who had been exposed to the SARS-COV-2 virus. Indeed, they react slightly differently when held or cuddled.”.
We were particularly sensitive to the way we conducted these tests. Every mother and every baby has been closely examined by clinicians with expert training in the field and in testing.
We should note that these are preliminary results, but are part of a project following a larger sample of 100 mothers and their babies. They were also monitored during pregnancy and after birth. We also plan to compare these mothers and babies with data from another similar project (the epi-project) which examines the effect of stress and genetics on child neurodevelopment.”.
Agueda Castro Quintas continues:
“This is an ongoing project and we are only at the beginning. We found that babies whose mothers had been exposed to COVID showed neurological effects at 6 weeks, but we don’t know if these effects will lead to longer term problems, longer term observation can help us understand this .
Co-researcher Nerea San Martín González, added:
“Of course, in babies so young, there are several things that we simply cannot measure, 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 it over a longer period We need a larger sample to determine the role of infection on neurodevelopmental alterations in offspring and the contribution of other environmental factors In the meantime, we must emphasize the importance of medical monitoring to facilitate a healthy pregnancy, discussing any issues with your doctor if necessary”.
Commenting, the project leader, Dr Rosa Ayesa Arriola, said:
“Now is a good time to establish international collaborations that would allow us to assess long-term neurodevelopment in children born during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research in this area is essential to understand and prevent possible neurological problems and mental health vulnerabilities in these children in the years to come.”
In an independent commentary, Dr Livio Provenzi (University of Pavia, Italy) said:
“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 time of life that shapes much of our later development, and exposure to adversity during pregnancy can leave lasting biological imprints. These findings from Dr. Rosa Ayesa Arriola’s group strengthen evidence for epigenetic alterations in infants born to mothers exposed to pandemic-related stress during pregnancy. This shows that we need more large-scale international research to enable us to understand the developmental effects of this health emergency and to provide better care for parents and infants.”
Dr. Provenzi did not participate in this work.
Note: The epi-project is a multicentric project involving the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona and the Central University Hospital of Asturias. It examines the effects of genetics and stress on baby outcomes. It is headed by Prof. Dr. Lourdes Fananas.
Conflict of Interest Statement
Funding: This research was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, Instituto de Salud Carlos III under the University of Barcelona Multicenter Project – Intramural 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.
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