Healthbeat: Effects of mask wearing on babies’ development

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KINGSTON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Wearing face masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but they are preventing something else that is unwanted.

Those masks are interfering with the way babies learn. Infants develop socially and emotionally by seeing facial expressions.

So, what’s a parent to do in this mask-wearing, pandemic era? Eyewitness News stopped inside PAK Pediatrics to find out.

Facial expressions can teach a baby so much. Take for instance the six-week-old son of new parents Aley Briggs-Reichart and Eric Reichart.

“He already mocks us when he (Eric) sticks his tongue out and Owen will stick his tongue out after him and I’ll smile and he wakes up and he’ll smile back,” Aley said.

But when you add a facial mask to the equation…

“I don’t know what’s going on in his head when he looks at the people with all these masks on,” Aley said.

These masks which protect babies and the rest of us from COVID-19 are also covering up an important source of early education.

“Some people might feel it’s a little bit of a predicament on how are these babies and even small toddlers learning language and emotion from people,” pediatrician Dr. Jeffery Kile of PAK Pediatrics said.

One solution according to Dr. Kile is to articulate what can’t be seen.

“Make sure that we’re expressing our emotions to our children when we’re wearing our masks, maybe even saying what those emotions are so they can kind of get a read on it a little bit better,” Dr. Kile said.

That “read” might be more difficult for extended family members and friends whose interaction with babies is done wearing masks which hide what otherwise would be visual, facial cues.

“I know it’s hard for our parents, his grandparents,” Aley said.

For them, Dr. Kile recommends such things as virtual, maskless visits. In the meantime, his advice for new parents is to make sure when they are maskless, spend a lot of time with their babies and use facial expressions to communicate. Some simple solutions to help overcome an unintended pandemic issue.

“Children are resilient and this is nothing to get worried about,” Dr. Kile said.

Dr. Kile also points to some cultures where mask-wearing is the norm and babies develop just fine.

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