Q&A: Can steroids cause developmental delays?
When I was pregnant, I developed preterm labor. While I was in the hospital being treated for preterm labor, I received several steroid injections, which the doctor told me would help the baby's lungs mature more quickly and prevent respiratory problems in the baby. My baby still had to be on a ventilator and now has developmental delay. I am concerned that it was because of the steroid injections. Can you help me?
Preterm birth is a huge problem in the US. Being born early puts babies at risk for many of the medical problems your child experienced, including respiratory distress requiring mechanical ventilation and developmental delay. We have gotten good at keeping very small babies alive, but many of these children have medical conditions due to premature birth. The earlier the baby is born, the greater the risk. And unfortunately, despite active research into causes and treatments, medical science doesn’t have all the answers, and can’t fully prevent many of the short- and long-term complications of preterm birth.
Steroid medications have been shown to improve lung function in babies who are born early. Scientific research indicates that premature babies do better if they receive steroids before they are born, requiring less oxygen and shorter duration of mechanical ventilation. Long-term lung disease is less common as well. Unfortunately these medications are not 100 percent effective. In other words, many babies who receive steroids still require the ventilator, and may go on to have some of the other long-term problems of premature birth. Steroids improve survival and lung function, but they are not a cure-all for the risks of prematurity. You can’t know how your baby would have done without the steroids, but odds are it might have been worse. And there is no reason to think the steroids played a role in your child’s medical conditions: the fact is, preterm birth is enough to explain those problems.
What can you do? Many babies born prematurely will benefit from early intervention programs, which can help them to reach their potential in development and functioning. Your pediatrician should be able to help you get the resources that you and your family need. For more information go to www.marchofdimes.com.