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Understanding the Developing Brain Leads to Healthier Babies

By Alisha, a Children’s National parent

My son Immanuel is a typical 1-year-old ― playful, stubborn and full of life. I was in the final months of pregnancy with him when COVID-19 hit. I work in the medical field and continued to see patients. I lived with uncertainty. Were my patients social distancing? What impact could the virus have on my baby? Several members of our immediate family became ill with COVID. My husband’s father and aunt passed away.

My obstetrician suggested I participate in Project RESCUE, a research study at Children’s National Hospital. RESCUE stands for “Reducing Elevated Stress from COVID-19 Exposure.” The study, led by Dr. Catherine Limperopoulos, explores how stress, anxiety and depression experienced by pregnant women impacts their babies’ brain development. Dr. Limperopoulos says healthier moms make for healthier babies.

I had diagnostic imaging while pregnant and, through Project RESCUE, learned techniques to relieve stress, such as meditation and yoga. I also answered survey questions about life stressors, feelings of anxiety and how I was coping as a new mom during a pandemic. Participating in the study turned out to be a lifesaver. Meditation and breathing exercises especially have helped me focus and stay calm.

At 2 months old, Immanuel had his first neurological exam as part of the study. At 6 months, he had an MRI and will soon have another. Being able to center myself has improved my ability to bond with my son at times when I might otherwise have felt overwhelmed. Being in this study has also given me hope. The staff at Children’s National give so much to kids and families. They work hard to better understand things like the developing brain to provide the best care possible. That care makes the world seem like a better place.