What are the Implications of Face Masks for Babies During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

By FREE THINKERS COLLECTIVE - January 17, 2022

COVID-19 has changed the way that newborn babies are cared for within the neonatal setting due to the introduction of social distancing and wearing of face masks to limit the spread of the infection. Potential implications exist related to the normal development of bonding and connections with others.


Mask wearing can also potentially impact relational communication. Decreasing face to face interactions and relational communication further highlights the potential negative effects of masks on long-term development related to human connection and attachment.


Below is a video of the "Still Face Experiment". It was conducted in order to examine the child's reaction to their parent who exhibits no emotion through facial expressions.


Still Face Experiment conducted with fathers:

At birth, a baby is born with all their neurons which subsequently undergo extraordinary development for the first few years of life (Holland et al., 2014).


The brain grows rapidly during this time and has reached half its adult size within three months, doubling in size in the first year. By age three, it has reached 80 percent of its adult volume (Cao et al., 2017).


Brain growth is strongly affected by the baby's experiences with people in their world, and brain development is influenced by relationships, experiences, and the environment (Griffin, 2017; Jensen and Nutt 2015; Tronick et al., 1975). Human beings are incredibly attuned to reading facial expressions of others.


From the minute of birth, faces are visible to infants, with research indicating that newborns shown photos of their mothers and other people, are adept at differentiating their mother's face from the faces of strangers (LoBue, 2016).


LoBue's research also indicated that newborns chose to look longer at images of their own mothers compared to images of different women (LoBue, 2016). Moreover, research has demonstrated that it only takes newborns a few days to learn how to discriminate between differing emotional facial expressions, such as happy, sad and surprised (Farroni et al., 2007; Palama et al., 2018).


By the time an infant has reached five months of age, they are able to match the image of an emotional expression such as a sad face, with the corresponding sad vocal expression (Rigato et al., 2011). At five years of age the child has developed the ability to recognise and label facial expressions with the competence of most adults (LoBue, 2016).


Here is a news report on the need for speech therapy for children spiking since the pandemic.


With the wearing of face masks, what will be the long term psychological effects on developing children?

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