Byrne S, Sledge H, Franklin R, Boland F, Murray DM, Hourihane J; CORAL Study group.
Introduction: The SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic was managed with sustained mass lockdowns to prevent spread of COVID-19 infection. Babies born during the early stages of the pandemic missed the opportunity of meeting a normal social circle of people outside the family home.
Methods: We compared 10 parentally reported developmental milestones at 12-month assessment in a cohort of 309 babies born at the onset of the pandemic (CORAL cohort) and 1629 babies from a historical birth cohort (BASELINE cohort recruited between 2008 and 2011).
Results: Compared with a historical cohort, babies born into lockdown appeared to have some deficits in social communication. Fewer infants in the pandemic cohort had one definite and meaningful word (76.6% vs 89.3%), could point (83.8% vs 92.8%) or wave bye-bye (87.7% vs 94.4%) at 12-month assessment. Adjusted log-binomial regression analyses demonstrated significant differences in social communication in the CORAL cohort compared with the BASELINE cohort: one definite and meaningful word (relative risk (RR): 0.86 (95% CI: 0.80 to 0.92)), pointing (RR: 0.91 (95% CI: 0.86 to 0.96)) and waving bye-bye (RR: 0.94 (95% CI: 0.90 to 0.99)).
Discussion: Parentally reported developmental outcomes in a birth cohort of babies born into lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic may indicate some potential deficits in early life social communication. It must be noted that milestones are parentally reported and comparison is with a historical cohort with associated limitations. Further studies with standardised testing is required to validate these findings.
Conclusion: Pandemic-associated social isolation may have impacted on the social communication skills in babies born during the pandemic compared with a historical cohort. Babies are resilient and inquisitive by nature, and it is hoped that with societal re-emergence and increase in social circles, their social communication skills will improve.