Safe to Take Steroids During Preterm Labor?

Should I take steroids if I develop preterm labor?
profile picture of Melissa M. Goist, MD
ByMelissa M. Goist, MD
OB-GYN
Updated
Mar 2017
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If you’re experiencing preterm labor symptoms, like strong contractions or a significant change in cervical length before week 34, your OB may want you to take corticosteroids. These steroids can help speed up the development of your baby’s lungs and other important organs, so if she’s born early, they’re at least further along than they would’ve been. Ideally, babies are born at the 40-week mark. From weeks 37 to 40, lung development can still be happening, but usually once you make it to week 37, baby’s strong enough to breathe on her own.

Steroids can also reduce the risk of IVH (intraventricular hemorrhage, or a bleeding in the brain), as well as necrotizing enterocolitis (a potentially life-threatening intestinal disease), in preterm babies.

While the idea of giving baby steroids seems scary, docs agree: The benefits of corticosteroids far outweigh the risks. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the National Institutes of Health both recommend a single course of this medication for moms-to-be with preterm labor between the 24- and 34-week marks. (And some research is also examining whether a steroid course may even help babies who are at risk of being born between 34 and 37 weeks.) In the past, doctors gave preterm labor patients repeated weekly treatments because the greatest effects of the steroid were seen in the first seven days. But more recent evidence shows these ongoing dosages can create some health problems for the baby, including suppressing the adrenal gland, so it’s now more common to just get the steroids once. If you have questions or concerns, of course, talk to your doctor.

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