Giving corticosteroids to most women who are anticipating labour before completing 37 weeks of pregnancy helps reduce immediate health problems in the baby compared with placebo or no intervention. Deaths around the time of birth were reduced by 28% and babies were a third (34%) less likely to develop respiratory distress syndrome.
A corticosteroid dose is already used for women who go into labour or if waters break before 37 weeks or where delivery is planned for other reasons. The drug accelerates the development of the baby’s lungs and reduces breathing difficulties at birth. This recommendation followed decades of research.
This review supports current practice of using a dose of corticosteroids in high-income settings and was designed to include more recent research and to look in more depth at new questions, such as the risk of infection. Evidence is still lacking in low-income settings and some very high-risk groups, like twins. There is also remaining uncertainty about the best corticosteroid, its dose and timing.
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