March 13 (UPI) -- A drug for some pregnant women to prevent lung ailments in preterm newborns also brings down health costs, a new study says.
Pregnant women injected with betamethasone have lower costs of care for drug and respiratory treatments, doctor's office visits and hospitalizations for their late-term newborns, according to research published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.
Late-term newborns, or preemies, are born between 34 weeks and 36 weeks of pregnancy.
The healthcare costs for women who took betamethasone during pregnancy to treat preemies with respiratory illnesses were $4,681 compared to $5,379 for those who didn't take the drug.
"Doctors have widely adopted this preventive strategy for mothers at risk of giving birth prematurely," said Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, a researcher at Columbia University and study author, in a news release. "But we didn't really know if it was cost-effective."
Preemies are often born with lungs smaller than a baby at full term. A 2016 study showed that pregnant mothers-to-be at risk for late preterm births normally receive corticosteroid drugs like betamethasone to speed lung growth in preemies.
About 7 percent of babies in the United States are late-term preemies and have a high risk of facing severe respiratory illnesses compared to full-term babies within 72 hours after birth, the study say.
"It's possible to have an intervention that is highly effective but costly in the end. But based on our analysis, we discovered that corticosteroid therapy for mothers at high risk of late preterm delivery is both highly effective and saves money," Gyamfi-Bannerman said.