Importance: Repeated doses of antenatal betamethasone are recommended for women at less than 32 weeks' gestation with ongoing risk of preterm birth. However, concern that this therapy may be associated with adverse neurocognitive effects in children with fetal growth restriction (FGR) remains.
Objective: To determine the influence of FGR on the effects of repeated doses of antenatal betamethasone on neurocognitive function in midchildhood.
Design, setting, and participants: This preplanned secondary analysis of data from the multicenter Australasian Collaborative Trial of Repeat Doses of Corticosteroids (ACTORDS) included women at less than 32 weeks' gestation with ongoing risk of preterm birth (<32 weeks) at least 7 days after an initial course of antenatal corticosteroids who were treated at 23 hospitals across Australia and New Zealand from April 1, 1998, through July 20, 2004. Participants were randomized to intramuscular betamethasone or saline placebo; treatment could be repeated weekly if the woman was judged to be at continued risk of preterm birth. All surviving children were invited to a midchildhood outcome study. Data for this study were collected from October 27, 2006, through March 18, 2011, and analyzed from June 1 through 30, 2018.
Interventions: At 6 to 8 years of corrected age, children were assessed by a pediatrician and psychologist for neurosensory and cognitive function, and parents completed standardized questionnaires.
Main outcomes and measures: The prespecified primary outcomes were survival free of any disability and death or survival with moderate to severe disability.
Results: Of 1059 eligible children, 988 (55.0% male; mean [SD] age at follow-up, 7.5 [1.1] years) were assessed at midchildhood. The FGR rate was 139 of 493 children (28.2%) in the repeated betamethasone treatment group and 122 of 495 (24.6%) in the placebo group (P = .20). Primary outcome rates were similar between treatment groups for the FGR and non-FGR subgroups, with no evidence of an interaction effect for survival free of any disability (FGR group, 108 of 144 [75.0%] for repeated betamethasone treatment vs 91 of 126 [72.2%] for placebo groups [odds ratio [OR], 1.1; 95% CI, 0.6-1.9]; non-FGR group, 267 of 335 [79.7%] for repeated betamethasone vs 283 of 358 [79.0%] for placebo groups [OR, 1.0; 95% CI, 0.7-1.5]; P = .77) and death or moderate to severe disability (FGR group, 21 of 144 [14.6%] for repeated betamethasone treatment vs 20 of 126 [15.9%] for placebo groups [OR, 0.9; 95% CI, 0.4-1.9]; non-FGR group, 29 of 335 [8.6%] for repeated betamethasone vs 36 of 358 [10.0%] for placebo [OR, 0.8; 95% CI, 0.4-1.3]; P = .84).
Conclusions and relevance: In this study, repeated antenatal betamethasone treatment compared with placebo was not associated with adverse effects on neurocognitive function at 6 to 8 years of age, even in the presence of FGR. Physicians should use repeated doses of antenatal corticosteroids when indicated before preterm birth, regardless of FGR, in view of the associated neonatal benefits and absence of later adverse effects.
Trial registration: anzctr.org.au Identifier: ACTRN12606000318583.