Background: Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is a serious complication of preterm birth and the primary cause of early neonatal mortality and disability.
Objectives: To assess the effects on fetal and neonatal morbidity and mortality, on maternal mortality and morbidity, and on the child in later life of administering corticosteroids to the mother before anticipated preterm birth.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group Trials Register (30 October 2005).
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled comparisons of antenatal corticosteroid administration (betamethasone, dexamethasone, or hydrocortisone) with placebo or with no treatment given to women with a singleton or multiple pregnancy, expected to deliver preterm as a result of either spontaneous preterm labour, preterm prelabour rupture of the membranes or elective preterm delivery.
Data collection and analysis: Two review authors assessed trial quality and extracted data independently.
Main results: Twenty-one studies (3885 women and 4269 infants) are included. Treatment with antenatal corticosteroids does not increase risk to the mother of death, chorioamnionitis or puerperal sepsis. Treatment with antenatal corticosteroids is associated with an overall reduction in neonatal death (relative risk (RR) 0.69, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.58 to 0.81, 18 studies, 3956 infants), RDS (RR 0.66, 95% CI 0.59 to 0.73, 21 studies, 4038 infants), cerebroventricular haemorrhage (RR 0.54, 95% CI 0.43 to 0.69, 13 studies, 2872 infants), necrotising enterocolitis (RR 0.46, 95% CI 0.29 to 0.74, eight studies, 1675 infants), respiratory support, intensive care admissions (RR 0.80, 95% CI 0.65 to 0.99, two studies, 277 infants) and systemic infections in the first 48 hours of life (RR 0.56, 95% CI 0.38 to 0.85, five studies, 1319 infants). Antenatal corticosteroid use is effective in women with premature rupture of membranes and pregnancy related hypertension syndromes.
Authors' conclusions: The evidence from this new review supports the continued use of a single course of antenatal corticosteroids to accelerate fetal lung maturation in women at risk of preterm birth. A single course of antenatal corticosteroids should be considered routine for preterm delivery with few exceptions. Further information is required concerning optimal dose to delivery interval, optimal corticosteroid to use, effects in multiple pregnancies, and to confirm the long-term effects into adulthood.