Corticosteroids in Preterm Labor and Premature Infants

Nurse and premature baby

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The womb is the best place to grow your baby. However, about 10 percent of women in the United States will experience premature labor and many of these women will give birth to premature infants. The more premature your baby is, the more complications and potential long-term effects are present.

How Long Is the Average Pregnancy?

The average pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. The definition of a term pregnancy is a pregnancy at 37 weeks. Infants born as early as 22 weeks are surviving with appropriate medical care and hospitalization.

The longer a baby stays in the uterus, the better its chances are of surviving and reducing complications after birth.

Slightly Premature Infants Are Also at Risk

While there was a general acceptance that infants born slightly premature are not in as much danger, new information says this is simply not true. 

Even slightly premature infants at 34 through 36 weeks gestation have an increased risk of certain complications after birth. These late preterm infants suffer higher infant mortality rates than babies born at full term.

Steroid Injection for Fetal Lung Development

Injections of corticosteroids for fetal lung development is one of the best advances in fetal medicine. Since 1994, the National Institutes of Health and other professional organizations have encouraged their use in promoting the development of fetal lung development in moms who are at risk for preterm labor or birth.

Betamethasone and dexamethasone are the two most commonly used steroids.

The use of the steroids provided benefits for the lung development in the premature infants to reduce the risk of respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) as well as to reduce the risk of intracranial hemorrhaging and some other potential benefits.​

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Premature Birth. Updated June 13, 2019.

  2. Mehler K, Oberthuer A, Keller T, et al. Survival Among Infants Born at 22 or 23 Weeks' Gestation Following Active Prenatal and Postnatal Care. JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(7):671-7. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.0207

  3. Bulut C, Gürsoy T, Ovalı F. Short-Term Outcomes and Mortality of Late Preterm InfantsBalkan Med J. 2016;33(2):198–203. doi:10.5152/balkanmedj.2016.16721

  4. Effect of corticosteroids for fetal maturation on perinatal outcomes. NIH Consens Statement. 1994;12(2):1-24.

  5. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Antenatal Corticosteroid Therapy for Fetal Maturation. Updated November 2017.

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