What are the effects of corticosteroids for babies born at term?

Sarah Stock, Rebecca Reynolds

Corticosteroids are given to mothers at risk of premature labour to prevent health complications for their baby. However, many of these women will go on to have a normal birth at term. Our researchers are investigating what effect these drugs have for babies who are not born prematurely after all.

Start: 2020

End: 2022

Why do we need this research?

Corticosteroids are drugs given to women who are at risk of going into labour early. If given within 7 days of birth, they can reduce the chances of lung disease and death in babies.

However, many women taking corticosteroids end up giving birth more than 7 days later, and some women end up giving birth at full term. There is some evidence to suggest that giving corticosteroids can be harmful to babies who end up being born at term.

We urgently need to investigate benefits and risks of corticosteroids to babies to make that these drugs are used appropriately.

What’s happening in this project?

Researchers funded by Tommy’s want to study the effects of corticosteroids on healthy babies born at term. To do this, the team will first gather routinely collected information from national health records. This will enable to them to see if babies whose mothers received corticosteroids had any heart problems later in life.

Secondly, the team plan to set up a trial to investigate the effects of these drugs on the baby’s heart function. They will do this using cutting-edge ultrasound techniques to study the hearts of babies before and after they are born. The team will recruit pregnant women who are at risk of premature birth and are prescribed corticosteroids, and compare them to women who will give birth at full term. As well as studying how the baby’s heart work, our researchers will measure other factors such as whether they are growing at a normal rate, their response to stress hormones, and the distribution of fat in their body.

What difference will this project make?

Corticosteroids are frequently given to pregnant women who are thought to be at risk of premature labour. However, many of these women go on to have their baby later than expected, and some end up giving birth at full term. This research project will help doctors to the risks of corticosteroid treatment for babies born at term. The results of this project could change medical practice, helping to prevent harms to babies and children.

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Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. If you're interested in being kept updated about our research and news from Tommy's, click here.

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