Background: Between 5-15% of babies are born prematurely worldwide, with preterm birth defined as delivery before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy (term is at 40 weeks of gestation). Women at risk of preterm birth receive antenatal corticosteroids as part of standard care to accelerate fetal lung maturation and thus improve neonatal outcomes in the event of delivery. As a consequence of this treatment, the entire fetal organ system is exposed to the administered corticosteroids. The implications of this exposure, particularly the long-term impacts on offspring health, are poorly understood.
Aims: This review will consider the origins of antenatal corticosteroid treatment and variations in current clinical practices surrounding the treatment. The limitations in the evidence base supporting the use of antenatal corticos-teroids and the evidence of potential harm to offspring are also summarised.
Results: Little has been done to optimise the dose and formulation of antenatal corticosteroid treatment since the first clinical trial in 1972. International guidelines for the use of the treatment lack clarity regarding the recom-mended type of corticosteroid and the gestational window of treatment administration. Furthermore, clinical trials cited in the most recent Cochrane Review have limitations which should be taken into account when considering the use of antenatal corticosteroids in clinical practice. Lastly, there is limited evidence regarding the long-term effects on the different fetal organ systems exposed in utero, particularly when the timing of corticosteroid administration is sub-optimal.
Conclusion: Further investigations are urgently needed to determine the most safe and effective treatment regimen for antenatal corticosteroids, particularly regarding the type of corticosteroid and optimal gestational window of administration. A clear consensus on the use of this common treatment could maximise the benefits and minimise potential harms to offspring.