Is It Safe to Take Steroids During Pregnancy?

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Dr. Sabiha Anjum(Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
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Is It Safe to Take Steroids during Pregnancy?

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Steroids during pregnancy may sound scary but they are absolutely safe. Expecting mothers can take steroids (only on prescription) for numerous pre-existing health conditions like asthma, lupus, and skin problems. They are mostly prescribed by a doctor when she feels that the pregnant woman may go into preterm labour. The use of steroids in such a case helps in the maturity of the baby’s lungs, brain and intestine. However, steroids are mostly used for lung maturity.

Why Do Steroids Become Necessary During Pregnancy?

In early pregnancy, steroids are usually given for treating recurring miscarriages or foetal abnormalities. Doctors often prescribe steroid drugs known as corticosteroids for preterm labour. Babies born before the full term (i.e. 37th week) are at risk of respiratory distress and death due to underdeveloped lungs. The use of steroids expedites the development of the lungs of preterm babies and increases their chances of survival. Steroids also lower the risk of brain haemorrhage and a serious bowel disorder called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in premature babies.

How Do Steroids Help a Pregnant Woman?

Steroids are believed to have numerous benefits during pregnancy. Some of them are mentioned below –

  • Steroids can help the baby’s lung mature quickly, thus enabling his lungs to cope with the outside atmosphere.
  • Steroids can help develop the various organs and body parts of preemies faster.
  • They can do wonders for women who have a history of miscarriage.
  • steroids can particularly be beneficial for pregnant women with health problems like asthma, lupus and skin disorders.
  • Consuming steroids also lowers the risk of brain damage and Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome (NRDS) in premature babies.
  • The intestines of a preterm newborn are underdeveloped and weak. Therefore, steroids help in protecting the baby from intestinal infections and bowel issues.

What Is the Recommended Dosage?

Steroids are deemed to be safe for a pregnant woman if they are prescribed to her by her gynaecologist. The recommended dosage of steroids for a pregnant woman in different situations can be the following –

  • In case of unexpected preterm labour, a minimum of two doses are given, 12 or 24 hours apart.
  • If necessary, the dose may be repeated after it has been taken more than a week before.
  • A doctor may suggest steroid weekly for a long duration. However, doctors suggest this in very rare cases.

Doctor prescribing steroids

Who Can Take Steroids?

Steroids can be prescribed to a pregnant woman in the following cases –

  • If she has asthma or bronchial infections.
  • If she has had recurrent miscarriages.
  • If there were foetal abnormalities in her previous pregnancies.
  • If preterm labour is imminent.

In the above cases, steroids may be given anytime between the 24th and the 36th week of pregnancy.

Who Shouldn’t Take Steroids?

Women who suffer from diabetes or chorioamnionitis shouldn’t take steroids.

Side Effects of Taking Steroids During Pregnancy

There are two sides to a coin. Here are some side effects of taking steroids:

  • Steroids aggravate blood pressure.
  • A condition called pulmonary oedema (water retention in the lungs) occurs if the person is taking steroids with medication to prevent preterm labour.
  • A person with diabetes or gestational diabetes should not take steroids since it could increase the blood sugar levels.
  • In some cases babies born of mothers who took steroids during pregnancy, weigh less when born.
  • The risk of cleft lip is 6 times more in newborns when the mother takes steroids in the first trimester.
  • Multiple doses of steroids during pregnancy can have a negative effect on fetal intrauterine growth.
  • It can also result in a decrease of the foetal heart rate variation.
  • Multiple doses of corticosteroid can cause an increase in infections like endometritis.

Antenatal steroids (ANS) like corticosteroids have a lot many benefits; they have been successful in saving many preterm babies from the claws of death. However, the use of steroids during pregnancy can also have serious and long-lasting effects on the baby and the mother. So, never take this medication without a prescription.

Also Read: How to Prevent Preterm Labour

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