Lockdowns and mask mandates have stunted babies’ development, a study suggests. Youngsters born during the pandemic were less likely to have said their first words by their first birthday compared to babies born pre-Covid.
They were also less likely to be able to wave ‘bye’ or point at objects, researchers in Ireland found.
The team say face masks limited children’s ability to read facial expressions or see people’s mouths move — a crucial part of learning to speak.
Bans on visiting grandparents and relatives were also blamed for depriving them of vital socializing time.
It is just the latest piece of evidence to highlight the devastating toll of pandemic restrictions on the health of America’s youth.
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 fingure together. Pandemic babies were more likely to crawl, but less likely to be talking, pointing or waving goodbye
More than 3.6million babies were born in America over the first year of the Covid pandemic alone.
Evidence has already emerged suggesting that they suffered weakened immune systems due to the isolation, putting them at greater risk of nasty colds.
And today’s study is the latest to add to a growing body of evidence pointing to the measures as triggering delays in development for the youngest in society.
Record number of toddlers hospitalized with colds ‘due to lockdowns’
More children and young people are being hospitalized with colds and respiratory problems than ever after the Covid pandemic, official data suggests.
Experts have repeatedly warned lockdowns and measures used to contain Covid like face masks also suppressed the spread of germs which are crucial for building a strong immune system in children.
A retrospective report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today showed levels of common cold viruses hit their highest level ever among under-18s in August 2021.
The CDC samples random pediatric hospitals across the US and makes national estimates to gauge how prevalent viruses are.
There were nearly 700 children in hospital sick with a respiratory virus across the seven wards studied in August last year, of which just over half had tested positive for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – which is normally benign.
This was the highest levels ever recorded in summer, and came off the back of a year and a half of brutal pandemic restrictions forcing many to stay indoors.
In the paper, led by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, researchers looked at 309 babies born between March and May 2020.
Ireland was in lockdown for five months over that year, and spent many others under tight restrictions.
Parents were surveyed about 10 developmental milestones after their child turned one year old.
These included: saying one definite word, finger pointing, waving bye, being able to stand, stepping sideways, crawling and stacking bricks.
The results were compared to 2,000 babies born between 2008 and 2011.
Lockdown babies were 14 per cent less likely to have said one definite word, results showed.
They were also nine per cent less likely to have started pointing, and six per cent less likely to wave goodbye.
On the other hand, however, they were also significantly more likely to be crawling — at seven per cent.
Writing in the release, the College said: ‘Lockdown measures may have reduced the repertoire of language heard and the sight of unmasked faces speaking to infants.
‘It may also have curtailed opportunities to encounter new items of interest, which might prompt pointing, and the frequency of social contacts to enable them to learn to wave bye-bye.
‘But they were still more likely to be crawling… which might be because they were more likely to have spent more time at home on the ground rather than out of the home in cars and strollers.’
The study relied on parental recall in some cases beyond a month after the child’s first birthday, which may affect the results.
It was also observational, meaning it could not confirm a definite link between lockdowns and delayed development.
Dr Lemmietta McNeilly, chief staff officer for speech language pathology at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association who was not involved in the study, told DailyMail.com that babies may have lacked a first word because lockdowns meant they had ‘fewer needs to communicate’ with others besides their parents.
‘Fewer children having one meaningful word, and the ability to point, was probably impacted based on fewer needs to communicate with different partners outside of their parents,’ she said.
‘The need to follow the children who are in more naturalistic environments is necessary before determining if the lockdown children will have any lasting delays.
‘It is also important to note that the parents were living in a highly stressful environment as they dealt with the pandemic.’
The pandemic babies were from the CORAL study, or Impact of CoronaVirus Pandemic on Allergic and Autoimmune Dysregulation in Infants Born During Lockdown.
Those from before the pandemic were from the BASELINE study, or Babies after SCOPE, paper.