Steroids may help more than just premature babies

New study finds that giving steroids to pregnant women at risk for late preterm delivery, may reduce the risk of severe respiratory problems in their babies. 

Premature babies face a myriad of challenges once they leave their mother's womb. Most often preemies struggle with temperature regulation and weight gain, while some have an increased risk of developing severe respiratory problems. The results of a recent clinical trial, however, finds mothers at risk for late preterm delivery may be able to reduce complications with corticosteroids.

The study included more than 2,800 pregnant women with a high risk of late preterm delivery (34 to 36 weeks of pregnancy) who were randomly selected to receive two injections over 24 hours of either the steroid betamethasone or a placebo.

"Our study demonstrates that administering a medication that is commonly used to prevent complications in babies born before 34 weeks of gestation can also reduce the risk of many serious complications in babies delivered just a few weeks before term," lead investigator Dr. Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, an associate professor of women's health at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and obstetrician and maternal-fetal medicine specialist at New York Presbyterian (NYP), said in a statement.

Compared to babies born to mothers who received the placebo, babies born to mothers who received the steroid were much less likely to have severe respiratory complications shortly after birth, to require a long stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, or to need respiratory treatments. "This will transform the way we care for mothers at risk for late preterm delivery," added Gyamfi-Bannerman.

"While survival among late preterm infants is comparable to that of babies born at term, the rate of respiratory problems and other serious complications in this group is not comparable and remains unacceptably high," Gyamfi-Bannerman said. "Expanding the use of a well-studied, safe medication to improve lung development before birth offers a means of preventing many of these complications."

The researchers plan to dig deeper into steroid use, and determine if giving corticosteroids to mothers at risk for late preterm deliveries lowers their child's risk of long-term health problems.

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