Steroids reduce respiratory complications in late preterm births, study says

By Stephen Feller

PROVIDENCE, R.I., March 3 (UPI) -- Giving steroids to pregnant women at risk of late preterm birth can help prevent respiratory complications in their newborns, according to a recent study.

While doctors regularly treat women at risk for preterm birth before 34 weeks of gestation with steroids, a new study found giving them to women between their 34th and 36th weeks of pregnancy significantly lowered the number of babies requiring treatment after birth.


Steroids are given to pregnant women at risk for early labor to help mature the lungs of the fetus before birth. Whether the drugs could benefit a fetus that close to term was unknown, researchers said, as babies born at 37 weeks or later have less risk for adverse respiratory or other outcomes.

"This research supports the use of known medications that will allow us to help even more babies get the healthiest start at life," Dr. Dwight Rouse, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Brown University, said in a press release.

For the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers recruited more than 2,800 pregnant women at risk for preterm birth, randomly giving 1,429 the steroid betamethasone and 1,402 a placebo.


About 60 percent of each group received two doses of either the steroid or placebo, with many going into labor between doses. Of those who received both, 11.6 percent of women given the steroid had babies that required respiratory treatment in their first 72 hours of life, compared to 14.4 percent of women given the placebo.

Between the two groups, adverse events were reported 14.1 percent of the time after the first steroid shot and 5.5 percent after the second, while events were reported 20.3 percent of the time after the first placebo shot and 9.5 percent after the second -- showing a clear benefit from receiving steroid injections.

"For many years, obstetric and pediatric providers have known that steroids administered in preterm labor help speed the development of the preterm baby's lungs at 34 weeks gestation or earlier. This new research has shown that these same steroids when given to women who are at risk for late preterm delivery can significantly reduce the rate of neonatal respiratory complications."

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