TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A study by the European Psychiatric Association and the University of Barcelona found babies exposed to COVID-19 in the womb had a higher risk of neurodevelopmental changes. Essentially, babies born to mothers who had COVID-19 while pregnant have a higher risk of their brains developing differently than babies who were not exposed to COVID in the womb.

Click here to subscribe to WAVY’s breaking news email alerts

The changes studied showed infants born to “infected mothers” had “greater difficulty in controlling head and shoulder movement.” The study said it suggests COVID-19 may have had an effect on motor functions for infants born to COVID-19-infected mothers.

“Not all babies born to mothers infected with COVID show neurodevelopmental differences, but our data shows that their risk is increased in comparison to those not exposed to COVID in the womb,” Project Leader Dr. Rosa Ayesa Arriola said. “We need a bigger study to confirm the exact extent of the difference.”

A summary of the study produced by the European Congress of Psychiatry said the research showed babies born to infected mothers had “greater difficulties in relaxing and adapting their bodies when they are being held,” compared to other infants born to mothers who had not had COVID-19.

The study itself is being conducted at Marqués de Valdecilla University Hospital in Santander, Spain.

The data for the study came from the Spanish COGESTCOV-19 project, a study of pregnancy and baby development in mothers who contracted COVID-19. Research is ongoing to study the effects of babies born to mothers who had COVID while pregnant, and will continue for the first 18 to 42 months of the infants’ lives after they were born.

Mothers in the study went through a series of tests both while pregnant and after. Tests included hormonal and biochemical tests like checking cortisol levels and immune responses, as well as salivary tests, movement responses, and psychological surveys, according to the European Psychiatric Association.

Research subjects were also analyzed across multiple infant ages and sexes. The infants were tested after birth to measure the babies’ movements and behaviors.

“We found that certain elements of the NBAS measurement were changed in 6-week-old infants who had been exposed to the SARS-COV-2 virus. Effectively they react slightly differently to being held, or cuddled,” Águeda Castro Quintas, University of Barcelona, Network Centre for Biomedical Research in Mental Health, said. “This is an ongoing project, and we are at an early stage.

We found that babies whose mothers had been exposed to COVID did show neurological effects at six weeks, but we don’t know if these effects will result in any longer-term issues, longer-term observation may help us understand this.”

While only 21 mother and infant subjects were tested, the study’s researchers hope to proceed to a larger sample group of 100 mothers and babies next.

“We also need to be aware that this is a comparatively small sample, so we are repeating the work, and we will follow this up over a longer period. We need a bigger sample to determine the role of infection on offspring’s neurodevelopmental alterations and the contribution of other environmental factors,” co-researcher Nerea San Martín González said.