Irish babies born early in pandemic fell behind in key milestones, study finds – Independent.ie

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One in four had not met another infant by their first birthday
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Babies born in lockdown appeared to have some deficits in social communication, the study found. Photo: Stock image
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Babies born early in the Covid-19 pandemic, when Ireland was in lockdown and families were isolated due to infection-control rules, fell behind in several key milestones, including being able to say one meaningful word or wave bye-bye, a major study has found.
The study of infants born between March and May 2020, when unprecedented curbs were imposed as a protection from the deadly virus, also found they were less likely to be able to point to objects.
The powerful insight comes in the CORAL study carried out by the Department of Paediatrics and the Data Science Centre in the Royal College of Surgeons, Children’s Health Ireland and the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health in University College Cork.
One in four babies had not met another child their own age by their first birthday, household visits were restricted and pensioners were obliged to cocoon as Ireland witnessed the devastating spread of the virus for which there was no vaccine at that point.
It found that infants born during the early stages of the pandemic missed the opportunity of meeting a normal circle of people outside the family home.
They compared developmental milestones, as reported by parents, in 309 babies born in the early months of the pandemic with 1,629 infants who were born between 2008 and 2011.
Babies born in lockdown appeared to have some deficits in social communication, the study revealed.
Fewer babies born in the pandemic group – 76.6pc – had one definite meaningful word compared to 89.3pc infants born before Covid.
Of babies born during the pandemic, 83.8pc could point versus 93.8pc of the earlier cohort.
And when it came to waving bye-bye, 87.7pc of the children who came into the world in the first months of the Covid-19 emergency could do so, compared to 94.4pc of babies born in previous years.
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In correspondence to parents who participated in the study looking at the neurodevelopmental questions, Professor Jonathan Hourihane and Dr Susan Byrne, of University College Cork, said the babies were behind in three skills but the other seven skills measured were on par with pre-pandemic babies.
They said that crawling was more common among the pandemic babies.
The other skills included being able to stand alone, taking side steps, crawling, stacking bricks, finger-feeding, pincer movements and knowing their name.
They told parents: “We think the three slightly lower rates, and conversely higher crawling rate, may be related to the limitations of lockdown.”
They added: “Babies’ social circles were very small during the pandemic with families only seeing one person outside the home at the time of birth.
“An average of only three people kissed the baby – including parents – by the age of six months.
“And one in four babies had not met another child their own age by their first birthday.
“If family and friends were not visiting the house, then babies were not learning to wave bye-bye.
“And as they were at home most of the time due to the restrictions they would be familiar with surroundings and less likely to point to ‘new’ things or new people.”
The study pointed out that “babies are resilient and inquisitive by nature and it is very likely that with the reopening of society and the increase in social circles, their communication skills will improve”. It added: “We have heard from CORAL parents about the lovely interactions that the babies have had when they finally met with other children and went back to baby groups and the fun they had exploring the world.”
The authors pointed out that lockdown led to babies and their families spending more time at home than babies from previous years.
Families of babies in the CORAL cohort had a median of one social contact outside the home at birth, increasing to four when the babies reached six months of age.
“This may have impacted on parents’ experience of raising a child during the pandemic, as many parents noted that they were isolated.”
Pandemic babies also heard a narrower repertoire of language and saw fewer unmasked faces.
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