Experts slam 'alarmist' study that claims mothers who were stress out during the Covid pandemic had 'stunted' babies with smaller brains

READ MORE: Experts say the nose could be why some people NEVER got Covid

Pregnant women who were stressed out during the Covid pandemic gave birth to babies with smaller brains, according to the results of a study that has been immediately slammed as 'alarmist' by British experts.

Scientists from the Children's National Hospital in Washington DC, claimed their research, involving 150 mother and baby pairs, found significant reductions in the brain size of infants born to mothers who scored high stress scores in the pandemic.

This included reductions in the cerebral white matter, an interior part of the brain responsible for processing information, the hippocampal area, which governs learning, and the amygdala, areas which govern emotion.

Authors of the study claimed this 'stunted growth' could lead to an increased chance of babies suffering from problems like anxiety later in life.

However, British specialists have poured cold water on the conclusion, saying it was 'not supported by the data'.

Scientists from the Children¿s National Hospital in Washington DC, claimed their study of some 150 mother and baby pairs found significant reductions in the brain size of infants born to mothers who scored high stress scores in the pandemic (stock image)

Scientists from the Children's National Hospital in Washington DC, claimed their study of some 150 mother and baby pairs found significant reductions in the brain size of infants born to mothers who scored high stress scores in the pandemic (stock image)

The study compared maternal stress scores of two cohorts of mothers — 103 pre-pandemic and 56 during the pandemic — with brain scans of their infants.

Mothers in the Covid group had about triple the chance of scoring above thresholds to measure anxiety, stress and psychological distress compared to their pre-pandemic counterparts.

Their babies' brains were up to 0.3cm smaller in the cerebral white matter and hippocampus areas.

The amygdala, the brains emotional processing centres, were up to 0.5cm smaller in babies of the stressed pandemic mums.

But Professor Grainne McAlonan, an expert in neuroscience at King's College London, said the findings needed to be treated with caution.

'In my view this paper uses unjustifiably alarming language and is not especially a paper about Covid,' she said.

'Rather it is a paper about possible response of the early brain to maternal stress during pregnancy and stress unsurprisingly was higher during Covid.'

Read More

The reason some people have NEVER caught Covid? Scientists think it's all in the NOSE

article image

She added that while the paper did find differences in the brains the authors had failed to demonstrate what, if anything, these actually meant.

'Whether this difference is clinically meaningful was not established, there are no childhood outcomes, so assigning a value to brain volume differences by using words like "stunted" is entirely inappropriate and not supported by the data,' she said.

'In general, in brain imaging studies, bigger brain regions are not necessarily better unless there is a clear relationship between brain size and a brain function. The authors do not look at this.

'All that has been shown here is a possible brain response to maternal stress during pregnancy and a very small effect at that. We cannot tell whether it's good or bad.'

Professor McAlonan also pointed out that data on pandemic mothers was gathered between 2020 and 2022.

This, she said, was a long period of difference and that mothers who experienced pregnancy during the height of the 2020 lockdowns likely had a very different experience than those carrying babies in 2022.

Another flaw she identified was how mothers' distress was measured, which was if they scored high on a self-reported threshold.

'Distress is complex, variable and exists on a continuum and using this kind of cut-off may not be optimal,' she said.

The above graph shows the likelihood of a particular behavior in pandemic babies compared to non-pandemic babies by their first birthday. Pincer refers to using the thumb and index figure together. Pandemic babies were more likely to crawl, but less likely to be talking, pointing or waving goodbye

The above graph shows the likelihood of a particular behavior in pandemic babies compared to non-pandemic babies by their first birthday. Pincer refers to using the thumb and index figure together. Pandemic babies were more likely to crawl, but less likely to be talking, pointing or waving goodbye

She added however, that more work needed to be done to answer if any of the observed differences in brains in infants did amount to any changes in their future development.

None of the women in the smaller pandemic cohort tested positive for the virus during pregnancy.

The authors acknowledged their study is small and being composed of primarily White highly educated women may be less relevant to other populations.

Previous studies have linked stress during pregnancy to alterations in how babies brains develop, potential causing emotional problems later in life.

British researchers previously linked higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in mothers with structural changes in the amygdala of newly born babies.

Cortisol is involved in the body's response to stress — with higher levels indicating higher stress — and also plays a role in foetal growth.

The amygdala — of which there are two in each hemisphere of the brain — is known to be involved in emotional and social development in childhood.

Multiple studies have also sought to uncover if and how babies born into the Covid years differ from their peers and many have uncovered mixed results.

Some have found that they have an altered gut microbiome — the ecosystem of 'good' and 'bad' bacteria in the digestive system — which may be leading them to have fewer food allergies and a stronger immune system.

Others have found negatives such as youngsters who were born in the pandemic being less likely to have said their first words by their first birthday compared to babies born pre-Covid or point at objects.

Experts have theories the above observations may be due to mask wearing during pandemic limited children's ability to read facial expressions or see people's mouths move as well as a reduction in socialisation during lockdowns.

[video_shortcode_video_html_5 src="" itemprop="image" content="" data-src=""]

OTHER NEWS

5 hrs ago

Who are the 38+ lawmakers boycotting Netanyahu’s address to Congress today?

5 hrs ago

Raw’s latest numbers won’t break anyone’s heart

5 hrs ago

Andy Murray sticks up for mother Judy after Emma Raducanu Wimbledon furore

5 hrs ago

Cyber chaos: Ukrainian hackers disrupt Russia's banking system

5 hrs ago

Comic-Con 2024 Issue

5 hrs ago

Motaung Jnr on why Turkey pre-season was crucial!

5 hrs ago

Donald Trump Misses 12 Putts Playing Golf With Bryson DeChambeau

5 hrs ago

Gildan’s Reinstated CEO Embroiled in Tax Dispute Over Forex Trades

5 hrs ago

Garage clothing rebrand draws backlash over racy ad: ‘More like GarBage’

5 hrs ago

Saskatoon Berries slugger Carter Beck nabs all-star game MVP honours, Division I transfer

5 hrs ago

After 8 years, cat missing from Montreal turns up in Ottawa

5 hrs ago

4-month-old Dusk is looking for a family to take him on outdoor adventures

5 hrs ago

65-year-old CEO turned at least 88% of his employees into millionaires after selling his company for $70 million

5 hrs ago

Chicago suburb ranks among Fortune's '50 Best Places to Live for Families'

5 hrs ago

Trump rally gunman looked online for info on JFK assassination, FBI director says

5 hrs ago

Live updates: USMNT playing France in 2024 Olympics opener

5 hrs ago

What is VAR? What to know about the 2024 Paris Olympics technology

5 hrs ago

Olympic breaking? Here's a look at all the new events at the 2024 Olympics

5 hrs ago

Look up! 3 meteor showers to catch over Chicago skies this summer

5 hrs ago

American hostage families' message for Netanyahu in D.C. meeting: Bring them home now

5 hrs ago

Deputy who killed Sonya Massey worked for 6 agencies in 4 years

5 hrs ago

British equestrian great Dujardin out of Olympics after video shows her repeatedly whipping horse

5 hrs ago

3 dead in Somervell County crash

5 hrs ago

Netanyahu seeks support for Gaza war in address to Congress that sparks large protests and boycotts

5 hrs ago

Former longtime Rockets radio announcer Gene Peterson dies, team announces

5 hrs ago

Texas Democrats say RFK Jr.'s application to get on Texas ballot 'must be rejected'

5 hrs ago

Want to vote this November? Here's how to register in Texas

5 hrs ago

Big price cut ordered for inmate phone and video calls across Texas

5 hrs ago

6 things you need to know about cooking with ghee

5 hrs ago

Israeli prime minister Netanyahu addresses Congress as scores of Democrats boycott

5 hrs ago

These companies reporting next week are at risk of an earnings blowup

5 hrs ago

Boy, 14, busted in random caught-on-camera baseball bat attack on woman, 58, in NYC: cops

5 hrs ago

What 20 Of The Most Famous USA Women's Gymnasts Look Like Then Vs. Now

5 hrs ago

Solly Mapaila slams the ANC, names preferred GNU partners

5 hrs ago

See Timothée Chalamet's Bob Dylan perform "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" in “A Complete Unknown” trailer

5 hrs ago

NASA releases eye-popping, never-before-seen images of nebulae, galaxies in space

5 hrs ago

What Manchester City & Sony television's deal means for the future of sports entertainment

5 hrs ago

How much passive income could I make for every £1,000 invested in Aviva shares?

5 hrs ago

The 10 most popular cars on Consumer Reports

5 hrs ago

Assam govt reclaimed encroached land exceeding the size of Chandigarh: CM

ALONGWALKER VIETNAM: Kênh khám phá trải nghiệm của giới trẻ, thế giới du lịch ALONGWALKER INDONESIA: Saluran untuk mengeksplorasi pengalaman para pemuda global