A new meta-analysis indicates that infants born or raised during the COVID-19 pandemic do not exhibit impaired neurodevelopment overall. However, the study suggests that infants who experienced their first year of life during the pandemic have an elevated risk of communication impairment, regardless of gestational exposure to SARS-CoV-2, and that children of mothers infected with the virus may have an elevated risk of fine motor problems.

Kamran Hessami and colleagues analyzed data from eight studies involving a total of 21,419 infants who were screened using the Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ-3). Of the infants, 11,438 were screened during the pandemic period and 9,981 prior to the pandemic. The researchers say that the pandemic cohort was more likely to exhibit communication impairments but showed no significant differences in gross motor, fine motor, personal-social, and problem-solving skills. In addition, they say, maternal infection “was not associated with significant differences in any neurodevelopment domain in offspring, except for increasing the odds of fine motor impairment.”

The findings suggest they say “that overall neurodevelopment in the first year of life was not changed by either being born or raised during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic or by gestational exposure to SARS-CoV-2.”

They add, “Interestingly, the first year of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, regardless of maternal infection, was significantly associated with the risk of communication delay among the offspring.” They speculate that this may have stemmed from a reduction in parents’ communication with infants due to parental stress caused by the pandemic or from reduced opportunities for infants to associate with others outside the home during lockdowns.

The researchers conclude, “Clearly, although our observations raise potential concerns regarding the early developmental trajectory of children born during the COVID-19 pandemic, long-term follow-up behavioral assessments would be necessary to see whether this is borne out during early childhood or indeed whether catch-up occurring after the follow-up period is limited to the first year of life, and to extrapolate further into early childhood.”

“COVID-19 pandemic and infant neurodevelopmental impairment: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” Kamran Hessami, Amir Hossein Norooznezhad, Sonia Monteiro, Enrico R. Barrozo, Abolfazl Shirdel Abdolmaleki, Sara E. Arian, Nikan Zargarzadeh, Lara S. Shekerdemian, Kjersti M. Aagaard, and Alireza A. Shamshirsaz, JAMA Network Open, October 2022 (free online). Address: Alireza Shamshirsaz, Maternal Fetal Care Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, 300 Longwood Ave, Boston, MA 02115, [email protected].

This article originally appeared in Autism Research Review International, Vol. 36, No. 4, 2022

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