Ireland’s severe COVID lockdowns hampered babies’ language and social development: study

Ireland’s COVID-19 lockdown measures, known to be among the toughest in Europe, have delayed speech and social development in newborn babies, a new study has found.

According to researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Irish babies born in the early months of the pandemic experience fewer speech and communication development milestones than children born before the pandemic.

In their study published Wednesday in the Archives of childhood illnessesresearchers looked at the developmental outcomes of 309 babies born between March and May 2020, during which Irish families saw a draconian set of restrictions imposed by their government.

In March that year, the Irish government closed all indoor and outdoor sporting activities, closed all pubs and playgrounds and forced citizens to stay at home, with workers in ‘essential businesses’ allowed not to travel more than 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away from where they lived. In April, Irish police were allowed to arrest lockdown breakers without a warrant and punish them with a fine of up to 2,500 euros (about $2,700 at the time), up to six months in prison. imprisonment, or a combination of both. The island nation has continued to struggle in a back-and-forth of loosening and tightening of those measures in the year since.

When these 309 babies turned one year old, the researchers asked parents to rate their children’s performance on 10 criteria, including the ability to crawl, walk around furniture, stand up, pick up tiny objects with their thumbs and forefinger, to stack bricks, finger feed, know their own name, express a specific and meaningful word, point to objects and say goodbye.

Compared with 1,629 one-year-olds from a pre-pandemic study, pandemic babies are less likely to be able to speak a definite, meaningful word (77% vs. 89%), point to objects (84 % versus 93%), or saying goodbye (88% versus 94.5%).

“Lockdown measures may have impacted the range of language heard and the sight of unmasked faces speaking to them, while reducing opportunities to encounter new items of interest that might prompt pointing, and the frequency of social contact to enable them to learn to wave,” said lead author Dr. Jonathan Hourihane, who heads the pediatrics department at RCSI.

Meanwhile, pandemic babies were also found to be more able to crawl than their pre-pandemic counterparts (97.5% vs. 91%). Hourihane said it could also be linked to the fact that they spend a lot of time confined with their parents at home.

“[This] perhaps because they were more likely to have spent more time at home and in the field, with siblings home from school and parents working from home or in isolation, rather than out of the home in cars and strollers,” he said.

“However, due to the observational nature of this study, further research is needed to determine cause and effect,” the professor added.

Another lead author, Dr Susan Byrne of RCSI, said she hoped the developmental delays described in the study would be reversed as Ireland returned to its pre-pandemic norms.

“Babies are resilient and curious by nature, and it’s very likely that as society re-emerges and social circles increase, their social communication skills will improve,” Byrne said. “However, this cohort and the global population of pandemic babies it represents will need to be followed through to school age to ensure this is the case.”


Bill Pan is a reporter for The Epoch Times.

Joel C. Hicks