Male babies are at a risk of suffering from neurodevelopmental disorders when their moms catch the COVID-19 virus during pregnancy.

A new study published in the journal JAMA Network Open on Thursday explored the risk of having neurodevelopmental disorders between female and male offspring of mothers with SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy.

The research team wanted to determine if the male or female offspring had a greater risk of developing brain disorders when exposed to the virus inside the placenta.

The team analyzed data from 18,355 babies born after February 2020 to mothers who tested positive for the novel coronavirus via the polymerase chain reaction test.

The new research led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) found that male infants were more likely to receive a neurodevelopmental diagnosis in the first 12 months after birth than females.

“These findings suggest that male offspring exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in utero may be at increased risk for neurodevelopmental disorders,” they wrote.

After accounting for race, ethnicity, maternal age, preterm status and other factors, the team found that maternal COVID-19 positivity was associated with nearly two-fold higher odds of neurodevelopmental diagnosis in male infants at 12 months. The issue was not found in female babies.

Previous studies established associations between other infections during pregnancy and neurodevelopmental disorders in children, including autism spectrum disorder, MGH pointed out in a press release.

The new study explored if the same link exists with SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy, with a focus on the difference in risk between male and female offspring.

“The neurodevelopmental risk associated with maternal SARS-CoV-2 infection was disproportionately high in male infants, consistent with the known increased vulnerability of males in the face of prenatal adverse exposures,” co-lead author Andrea Edlow, MD MSc, said in the press release.

Co-lead Roy Perlis, MD MSc, said they hope to expand the cohort and do a follow-up over time since larger and longer studies are needed to make their findings reliable.

“We hope to continue to expand this cohort, and to follow them over time, to provide better answers about any longer-term effects,” he said.

The study was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, the Simons Foundation and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

A representative image of a pregnant mother touching her belly. Pixabay