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Pandemic babies: a systematic review of the association between maternal pandemic-related stress during pregnancy and infant development.

The COVID-19 pandemic, with its far-reaching influence on daily life, constituted a highly stressful experience for many people worldwide, jeopardizing individuals' mental health, particularly in vulnerable populations such as pregnant women. While a growing body of evidence links prenatal maternal stress to biological and developmental alterations in offspring, the specific impact of prenatal exposure to maternal pandemic-related stress (PRS) on infant development remains unclear. A comprehensive literature search was performed in October 2023 according to the PRISMA guidelines, which yielded a total of 28 records. The selected papers investigated a vast range of developmental and biological outcomes in the offspring with large methodological variations. Either direct associations between maternal PRS during pregnancy and infant temperament and socio-emotional development, or indirect links, mediated by maternal mental health, emerged in most reviewed studies. Furthermore, maternal PRS was associated with epigenetic and brain alterations in the offspring, although studies were limited in number. Collectively, the reviewed findings contribute to a deeper understanding of the role of early adverse exposures on infant development.

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