School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences

Psychology study launched to measure pandemic effects on mothers and children

A study is underway that will analyse the long-term effects of the Covid pandemic on the wellbeing of pregnant women, mothers and children

While the threat of Covid still remains, science can now start to draw lessons from the pandemic and determine what comes next.

The COVID-19 Health Impact on Long-term Child Development in Scotland (CHILDS) study will be led by Dr Bonnie Auyeung, Dr Louise Marryat, Dr Aja Murray, Dr Sarah Stock and Dr Rachael Wood who have recently been joined by new staff member Dr Iain Hardie on the project.

The CHILDS study will build upon the COVID-19 in Pregnancy in Scotland (COPS) study, a highly successful study completed between March 2020 and August 2022 by the University of Edinburgh Medical School and Public Health Scotland. The COPS study has created a platform of knowledge around the effects of COVID-19 on maternal wellbeing up to the point of birth and the new CHILDS study will now look beyond birth at effects on child behaviour and development. We are delighted that Dr Sarah Stock and Dr Rachael Wood, co-leads of the COPS study, will participate as co-investigators in the CHILDS study.

The impacts of the virus may not be limited to the direct symptoms of infection, but are identified in changes to physical and mental health as a result of public health and social distancing measures. Little is yet known, however, about the long-term effects of the pandemic have had on pregnant women and their new-born children, a knowledge gap now being addressed by a new scientific study being undertaken at PPLS.

COVID-19 presented many changes for mums and their children, throughout pregnancy and beyond. The CHILDS study will help us to understand whether these changes translate into lasting effects on the development of our young children. This is a natural extension to the excellent work done by the COPS team and we are delighted to be collaborating with Public Health Scotland to deliver this exciting research.

Scotland is a unique place to conduct this kind of research. Our unique health service will allow us to build a detailed understanding of pregnancy, maternal and child health and development for all children born in Scotland during the pandemic.

Dr Bonnie Auyeung

The study will be conducted over five years in collaboration with Public Health Scotland and has three distinct aims:

  • Investigate the impact of COVID-19 infection during pregnancy on child developmental outcomes.
    • How did COVID-19 infection during pregnancy affect the subsequent development of the children after they were born (followed up at 13-15 months, 30 months, 5 years)?
    •  What is the impact of COVID-19 infection during pregnancy on early child health and well-being outcomes?
  • Understand the impact of pandemic related Public Health and Social Measures on health and child development outcomes for all children born in Scotland throughout the study window.
    • How did social distancing (and other measures) during pregnancy affect the development of children at different ages (13-15 months, 30 months, 4-5 years)?
    • Were there changes to preventative healthcare (e.g. health visitor appointments, vaccinations for other illnesses) that have had a lasting impact on child health?
  • Examine how social inequality has influenced mother and child developmental outcomes during the pandemic.
    • How have social distancing (and other measures) affected health related-behaviours and is this influenced by deprivation/ethnicity?
    • Are differences in health service uptake during the pandemic related to deprivation/ethnicity?
    • How are differences in child development affected by deprivation and ethnicity?

I’m delighted to move to the Department of Psychology to be joining such a great team of researchers working on this study. During the course of the study we are aiming to track the development outcomes of all children born in Scotland during the pandemic. This should allow us to build a strong evidence base on what impacts the pandemic and its associated public health and social measures have had, and what role social inequality plays in this.

Dr Iain Hardie

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