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A recent study suggests steroid therapy during pregnancy can boost survival rates of preterm births in certain cases.  However, another study finds prenatal steroid treatment to address preterm birth may also contribute to psychological and neurosensory deficits in children as they age.

A child born prior to 37 weeks is considered preterm.  Babies born far earlier than 37 weeks are at greater risk of deficits and difficulties that may last a lifetime.  Corticosteroids are a synthetic version of the natural hormones created within the body as a baby grows and a mom carries the pregnancy.  Studies suggest that steroid treatment offers benefits for babies at risk of preterm birth, including maturation of the lungs, fewer intestinal problems, and possibly reducing chances of bleeding in the brain.

Treatment involves a series of injections for mom over two days or two doses about 12 to 24 days apart. 

The risks of preterm birth are well known.  Strategies and treatments to help mom avoid preterm birth or carry a pregnancy for a longer period of time are essential for reducing those risks and the chronic disabilities that can accompany preterm birth.

A September 2022 study published in JAMA Network Open examined data from the preterm infant registry of the Neonatal Research Network (NRN) focused on babies in a delivery window between 24 and 34 weeks of pregnancy.  The research focused on 431 infants whose mom’s had received either no steroids, partial steroid treatment, or complete steroid treatment. Research results suggest babies exposed to a complete course of steroids had a higher survival rate and a lower level of complications associated with preterm birth.

In August of this year, a different research effort also focused on the use of steroids to increase survival of preterm babies. The aim of the study was different, though.  This research sought to better understand whether steroid treatment to guard against complications of preterm birth has an impact on the psychological or neurosensory development of a child. This large study found that children exposed to antenatal (or prenatal) steroid treatment had a significantly higher risk of neurosensory disorders and psychological developmental disorders.

Research in this area will continue.  Pregnancy is inherently risky for mom and baby.  When asked to undergo treatment for mom or baby, it is critical for parents to rely on healthcare providers for straightforward, accurate counseling on the risks, benefits, and complications of recommended treatments.

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