Getting a baby offers an unimaginable bounty of joy, excitement, and contentment. Moms are often overwhelmed with feelings of total amazement, which come with bringing a new life into the world. Sadly, not all pregnant women go through the child-bearing process successfully.
One of the worst nightmares for pregnant women is undergoing premature labor. It occurs when the body begins to get ready for birth, way too early before the due date. Prematurely born babies are at a higher risk of dying or developing complications. These complications include breathing problems, bleeding in the brain among others.
According to research published in The BMJ, administering steroids to women undergoing preterm labor can reduce these risks significantly. Scientifically, this class of drugs is known as antenatal steroids. Throughout history, steroids have garnered a bad rep, primarily because of the way athletes abuse them. However, these drugs are also one of the best-kept secrets for early birth problems. This article looks at the safe use of steroids during pregnancy.
When Is It Safe to Take Steroids for Pregnant Women?
If your physician has said that you can carry your child to term, there will be no need to take steroids. Steroids are only necessary if you happen to go to labor earlier than anticipated. In such situations, the infant may not have had sufficient time to develop in the womb. By taking steroids, you up the chances of the baby being born without any defects.
You should only take steroids in the following circumstances:
- If your water breaks before 28 to 34 weeks
- If you have undergone premature deliveries before and are experiencing regular, intense contractions too early
- If you are having twins or more and are showing signs of going into early labor
Safe Antenatal Steroids to Take During Pregnancy
Based on recent research studies, steroids are the best bet at reducing miscarriages and baby deaths. Of these steroids, the most efficient ones for this role are dexamethasone and betamethasone. Each type has its fair share of merits and drawbacks. For instance, dexamethasone is preferred by some experts because of its efficacy, safety, ready accessibility and low cost. Others prefer the latter because it is a better treatment for softening the brain of premature babies.
In general, these steroids facilitate the development of the lungs in the premature fetus. They are administered in situations where the fetus is to be delivered within 24 to 48 hours.
Benefits of Steroids
Steroids have been found to be a lifesaver when a premature fetus, particularly one born before seven months, faces a risk of death. The following are some advantages of getting steroid shots for preterm labor:
- Aid with development of the lungs
As we earlier stated, steroids help with the development of the premature baby's lungs. Usually, the baby's lungs emit a lubricant known as surfactant. Surfactant is responsible for lubricating the lungs walls. It is this lubrication that enables the airbags to move smoothly against each other when the fetus is breathing.
- Help with Breathing Problems
Steroids facilitate the secretion of the lubricant that helps the fetus to breathe normally. This way, the unborn child will not be at a risk of getting respiratory distress syndrome. It is a medical problem where the baby cannot breathe without the external support.
- Prevent Hemorrhaging
Premature babies are also susceptible to hemorrhaging, a grave condition that causes bleeding in the brain.
- Protection from Intestinal Infections
Another risk for a child born too early is a complication of the intestines and digestive tract. Luckily, taking steroids can help combat this by preventing inflammations and intestinal infections.
Dosage of Steroids
One piece of advice that every physician gives to women prescribed to steroids is that they should not go overboard. Most steroids contain addictive elements. Consequently, it is easy for any one individual (including pregnant women) to get hooked on them.
Corticosteroids is the most common class of steroids administered to pregnant women. Usually, you will be given a shot on one of the larger muscles in your arms or legs. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Depending on the prescription, you may have to take the steroids for a long duration such as on a weekly basis. Depending on the prescription, you may have to take the steroids for a long duration such as on a weekly basis.
- Often, this will only be administered if you go into preterm labor. During this time, you will receive two doses, given at intervals of 12 hours.
- You may receive a repeat dose if the last shot was given more than a week ago.
- Steroids are the most effective, particularly if the birth of your newborn occurs two to seven days after taking the shot.
Possible Side Effects of Steroids Taken During Pregnancy
Ideally, every kind of drug causes some side effect. It is no different with steroids. Steroids will prevent defects associated with premature birth. Sadly, they may also cause adverse effects to the mother, the most common of which is a rise in blood pressure.
Other moms are susceptible to pulmonary edema, a condition that causes water retention in the lungs. Often pulmonary edema crops up when the individual takes steroids alongside medications meant to delay preterm births.
Another likely side effect is a rise in your blood sugar level. If you have a history of diabetes, it is crucial that you monitor your blood glucose levels when taking steroids.
Can Preterm Labor Be Prevented?
We may have found a way to prevent complications that come with premature births, but wouldn't it be better if you were able to avoid this situation in the first place? Thanks to modern medicine, there are significant advances when it comes to preventing preterm labor.
Early Prenatal Care
A simple and cost-effective way of preventing preterm labor is to go for regular checks during the pregnancy period. This way, your health practitioner will guide you on how to eat right, exercise right and sleep right! Moreover, he will prescribe prenatal vitamins. Prenatal vitamins contain folic acid, a vital vitamin B that staves off congenital disabilities such as spina bifida. More importantly, folic acid is effective in mitigating the risk of placental abruption- the separation of the placenta and uterine wall; and preeclampsia- an increase in blood pressure during pregnancy. These two conditions are the greatest culprits for premature deliveries.
Know the Risks
In addition to getting prenatal care, you should familiarize yourself with the risk factors that encourage preterm labor. These include prior preterm deliveries, being over or underweight, smoking and illegal drug abuse. You should consult your physician if you have any of these complications. This way, he will recommend ways to minimize these risks.
You should also be examined for vaginal and other reproductive problems. When you have vaginal bacterial infection, the body is prompted to release infection-fighting chemicals called cytokines. The problem with cytokines is that they also cause inflammation, which in turn initiates contractions and dilations in the cervix. Uterine infections are responsible for at least half of preterm births.
Watch your Weight
On average, pregnant women should only put on between 25 and 35 pounds. If you gain more than this, you increase the odds of complications such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia that increase preterm labor risk. But, underweight women are not in the clear either. Based on credible research, underweight women are at a risk of not carrying their babies to term. These persons may suffer nutritional deficiencies that create hostile environment for the fetus.
The benefits of receiving steroid shots during pregnancy far outweigh the risks associated. These drugs ensure that even if your baby is born too early, he will not have any complications such as bleeding in the brain and breathing issues. So if your physician recommends you to take steroids, he is only acting in your best interest. After all, it's for the safety of your child.