Steroids in pregnancy may be used to treat existing health conditions, or to address specific pregnancy-related concerns. These medications are believed to be generally safe in pregnancy, although a care provider may have worries about a particular patient on the basis of medical history. It is important to pay attention to dosing and timing recommendations to ensure the drugs are used as safely as possible. Any side effects can be discussed with a doctor to determine if additional action is needed.
One reason to use steroids in pregnancy may be to promote fetal lung development in cases with a risk of preterm labor. Babies born between 24 and 34 weeks of pregnancy are at risk of a number of complications because they are not fully grown. One serious issue is underdeveloped lungs, which could make it difficult for the baby to breathe independently. A single dose of steroids given to mothers in preterm labor stimulates the lungs to encourage them to mature more quickly, giving the baby a better chance of survival at the time of delivery.
A 2008 study at the University of Liverpool also showed that steroids in pregnancy could be used to prevent miscarriage. In women with a history of pregnancy loss who participated in the study, taking doses of steroids reduced the risk of losing subsequent pregnancies. While it can be difficult to develop treatments for miscarriage prevention because so many factors are involved, the study did suggest this treatment might provide hope for some patients.
Another reason to use steroids in pregnancy can be a pregnancy-related skin condition or outbreak of inflammation. Women can experience a variety of physical changes during pregnancy, some of which are uncomfortable or create the risk of complications. These may be treated both for the patient’s general wellbeing and to protect the pregnancy. Pregnancy can cause severe outbreaks of conditions like eczema, and steroid creams or tablets may help reduce the symptoms.
Some women take steroids in pregnancy because they need to address an underlying health condition. Chronic inflammatory conditions like asthma and Crohn’s disease do not preclude pregnancy, and these patients need to keep managing their conditions throughout the pregnancy. Their medications may require adjustment to reduce risks to the fetus, but it is usually safe to continue with steroid therapy. Controlling the condition is also important for the health of the baby; asthmatic patients, for example, need good blood oxygenation to meet the needs of the fetus.