For preemies, less is more

Multiple courses of steroid treatment for mom could harm premature babies

10:07pm, December 18, 2008

The decades-old clinical practice of giving multiple courses of steroids to pregnant women at risk of delivering prematurely may actually cause harm to the baby, a new study in the Dec. 20/27 Lancet shows.

“This will be the definitive study on repeated doses,” says John Newnham of the University of Western Australia in Perth. “It’ll profoundly change clinical practice.”

Babies born prematurely often have underdeveloped lungs, leading to respiratory distress and other serious health issues. Doctors know that a single course of steroid hormones given to a pregnant mother, often two doses 24 hours apart, unequivocally hastens lung development, improving the outcome for the baby.

But, currently, women at risk of giving birth early are routinely given numerous rounds of steroid hormones, believed to enhance the development of the lungs even more.

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