Lockdown and face masks have left babies born during the pandemic worse at communicating than other infants, new research has found.
Enforced isolation during the pandemic meant children met fewer milestones in their first year of life, according to a study by the University of Medicine and Health Sciences, Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin.
During their interactions, young babies fixate on their carers’ eyes while older ones focus on the mouth.
However, COVID-19-mandated lockdowns and mask-wearing limited infants’ time spent outside the home and their access to visual and facial cues.
Researchers studied 309 12-month-old pandemic babies born during the first three months of the outbreak, between March and May 2020, and revealed many of those children reached social communication milestones more than others.
They looked at 10 developmental outcomes: crawling, side-stepping along furniture, standing alone, picking up tiny objects with their thumb and index finger, stacking bricks, finger feeding, knowing their own name, expressing one definite and meaningful word, pointing at objects, and waving “bye-bye.”
Parents assessed their own kids, and the results were compared with 1,629 baseline babies.
More pandemic babies were able to crawl, 97.5 percent versus 91 percent, but fewer expressed one definite and meaningful word, 77 percent versus 89 percent.
Similarly, just 84 percent of pandemic babies were able to point, compared to 93 percent of babies born in “normal times.”
Only 88 percent were able to wave bye-bye, versus 94.5 percent of the baseline group.
Scientists said the crawling uptick was likely due to babies spending more time at home on the ground rather than in cars or buggies.
The impact on communication was likely due to the lockdown, possibly reducing the language repertoire infants heard and reducing the sight of faces speaking to them without a mask on.
These babies also had fewer opportunities to encounter new and interesting items that they could point at, and fewer social contacts where they had the opportunity to learn to wave bye-bye.
Because it was observational, the scientists writing in the Archives of Disease in Childhood could not draw any firm conclusions.
However, the researchers believe it is likely that babies will improve.
They said: “While neurodevelopment is part genetically mediated, parental education and social exposure, have a significant role to play.”
“Teasing out the direct effect of early enrichment is extremely difficult.”
“Pandemic-associated social isolation appears to have impacted on social communication skills in babies born during the pandemic compared with a historical cohort.”
“Babies are resilient and inquisitive by nature, and it is very likely that with societal re-emergence and an increase in social circles, their social communication skills will improve.”
“However, this cohort and others will need to be followed up to school age to ensure that this is the case.”
The cohort of pandemic babies was taken from the CORAL study, otherwise known as the Impact of the CoronaVirus Pandemic on Allergic and Autoimmune Dysregulation in Infants Born During Lockdown.
The other infants were taken from the BASELINE study – Babies After SCOPE: Evaluating the Longitudinal Impact using Neurological and Nutritional Impact – which included babies born in Ireland between 2008 and 2011.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker.
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