Motor control

Babies exposed to COVID-19 during pregnancy show signs of motor control problems at 6 weeks

Budapest, Hungary – COVID-19 infection increases the risk of neurodevelopmental changes in babies whose mothers became ill during pregnancy, according to a preliminary analysis by the European Psychiatric Association. Six weeks after birth, the babies were showing motor control problems, such as difficulty relaxing when held and controlling head and shoulder movements.

“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,” says Rosa Ayesa Arriola, principal investigator at the Valdecilla Research Institute and co-author of the study at a conference. Press release.

The team studied 21 babies born to women who tested positive for COVID-19 during pregnancy. The researchers used a separate group of 21 babies born to uninfected mothers as a control group for comparison. All mothers participated in multiple tests ranging from hormonal tests to psychological questionnaires during and after pregnancy. The Neonatal Behavioral Rating Scale measured a baby’s ability to move and other behaviors.

“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,” says Águeda Castro Quintas, researcher at the University of Barcelona and co-author of the study.

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The findings are part of a larger project that is tracking the pregnancy and fetal development of 100 babies born to 100 mothers who have previously had COVID-19 infection. While the current results detail neurodevelopmental outcomes six weeks after birth, the study will look to see if there are any longer-term consequences. In addition to motor development, the researchers plan to examine language development in babies aged 18 to 42 months. Future research will also look at mothers and babies exposed to COVID-19 and compare them to a separate cohort studying how stress and genetics affect child development.

The study has a small sample of participants and will require more data before determining the true impact of COVID-19 on babies’ neurodevelopmental outcomes.

“In the meantime, we must emphasize the importance of medical monitoring to facilitate a healthy pregnancy, discussing any problems with your doctor if necessary,” adds researcher Nerea San Martín González.

The team presented its findings to the 30th European Congress of Psychiatry.