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Premature babies benefit from corticosteroids before birth

A BMJ study has found that babies born prematurely, can benefit from mothers taking corticosteroids before birth.

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Giving corticosteroid drugs to mothers at risk of preterm delivery – from as early as 23 weeks of pregnancy – is associated with a lower rate of death and serious illness for their babies, says a study published by the BMJ.

Babies born early have a greater risk of death and serious complications after birth – such as breathing problems, bleeding into the brain or infection – compared with babies born at term. These problems tend to be more severe the earlier the baby is born.

Corticosteroids have been shown to help with a baby’s development and increase the chance of the baby surviving after being born.

A team of researchers analysed data for 117,941 infants born between 23 and 34 weeks of gestation from 2009 to 2013 at 300 neonatal intensive care units across the US.

Death or major illness was analysed by gestational age and exposure to antenatal corticosteroids, adjusting for factors such as birth weight, sex, mode of delivery and multiple births.

The researchers found that exposure to antenatal corticosteroids was associated with a significantly lower rate of death before discharge from hospital at each gestation compared with infants without exposure.

They also found that the number of infants that needed to be treated with antenatal corticosteroids to prevent one death before discharge increased from six at 23 and 24 weeks of gestation to 798 at 34 weeks, suggesting that infants born at the lowest gestational ages benefit most, even those born at 23 weeks.

The rate of survival without major illness while in hospital was also higher among infants exposed to antenatal corticosteroids at the lowest gestations.

Nevertheless, they say the study 'supports the administration of antenatal corticosteroids in women with threatened preterm labour from 23 to 34 weeks’ gestation.'

McDonald DS (2017) Antenatal corticosteroids for women at risk of preterm delivery. BMj. doi:

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