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‘Coronababies’: science explains what babies can inherit from the pandemic

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Aakash Molpariya
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Some experts think that babies born during the COVID-19 pandemic are destined to struggle, but there are others who think it will not be so decisive.

The truth is that the extreme stress that pregnant women are facing can be transferred to their fetuses. 

Will the pandemic deliver “trauma babies”?

The pandemic has added stress to daily life is known to all, because if we are to the case, who is able not to suffer a little stress? The news is that scientists are studying what happens to babies who were born in pandemic, fetuses and babies who will be delivered. They are debating whether babies born during quarantines will suffer with poor health for the rest of their lives.

One of the most promising long-term studies is the one being conducted by radiologist Catherine Lebel of the University of Calgary, Canada. According to the science journal National Geographic (NatGeo), she is monitoring monthly pregnant people across Canada, and following the results of their babies after birth to see what impact quarantine isolation has. 

Lebel and other researchers say that the excessive stress and isolation that pregnant women are experiencing may be affecting their fetuses, which NatGeo explains could lay the groundwork for the now called “Generation C” to display a number of negative cognitive, mental, emotional and physical conditions.

Lebel’s COVID-19 project has already yielded “some worrying results.” In April, the team recruited nearly 2,000 pregnant participants to fill out psychological questionnaires. Among the respondents:

  • 37% reported clinically relevant symptoms of depression.
  • 57% expressed signs of anxiety. 

Based on evidence from the past, Lebel suspects that stress may be causing physiological changes in fetuses. “I would not speak of a damaged generation,” Lebel told NatGeo. “But 20 years from now, we are going to see higher rates of depression and anxiety than previous generations.”

Lebel and his team know that they will still not be able to fully understand whether or not the pandemic will influence “coronababies”, so they suggest that pregnant people follow some recommendations to minimize the effects. So far, their study revealed that the women surveyed who showed fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression:

  • They had social support.
  • They did physical activities.
  • They actively maintained virtual or socially distant relationships.

But Lebel and her team aren’t the only ones working on the issue. What’s more, there are scientists who think the opposite of what they postulate. 

Will there be no trauma to the coronababies?

One of the scientists who believes that babies born in the pandemic will not necessarily be destined for hardship, is Noel Hunter, a clinical psychologist and author of Trauma and Madness in Mental Health Services (2018). According to NatGeo, she cautions that the concept of “collateral damage” is overly generalized and based on few statistics.

“Previous research showed only correlation between later problems in the physical and mental health of babies, and not causation,” Hunter told NatGeo. For her, these correlations “neglect the ways stressful situations (like an ongoing pandemic) can influence adult behaviors toward children.” 

Rather than blaming stress on pregnant women and the prenatal period, Hunter suggests that the focus should be expanded to study persistent traumas that can influence children long after birth, such as abusive parenting and childhood stress , which “have also been linked to long-term health consequences.”

Another of the experts consulted by NatGeo, Alisha Ali, an applied psychologist at New York University, argues that any research must take into account the way in which COVID-19 intersects with, for example, vulnerabilities that already exist due to systemic racism or income inequality. 

Ali notes that parents facing social vulnerabilities may require additional assistance during pregnancy and postnatal period in the pandemic.

“In addition to ensuring these parents have better nutrition for themselves and their newborns, health workers must also ensure that they have ongoing social support,” Ali told NatGeo. 

In that sense, Hunter recommends finding fun activities that help de-stress, such as board games, singing karaoke, making a TikTok video, or going on a scavenger hunt. 

“Kids will mostly be fine if their parents take care of themselves and focus on what is most meaningful in life,” Hunter told NatGeo. “When we work together and support one another, we can overcome almost anything.”

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