Associations Between Maternal Antenatal Corticosteroid Treatment and Mental and Behavioural Disorders in Children

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Babies whose mothers are treated with steroid drugs during pregnancy are significantly more likely to suffer from later mental and behavioural disorders, this research finds.

The study looks at data on 670,000 children born in Finland between 2006 and 2017 and assesses whether the drugs – commonly administered to help a foetus mature when premature birth is likely – could have adverse effects.

Just under 15,000 of the study sample were treated with corticosteroids before birth, and they were significantly more likely than the rest to suffer from mental and behavioral disorders including psychological development and emotional and behavioural disorders. The children’s development was investigated up to the age of 11.

The authors found that although guidelines suggested using steroids only on babies likely to be born before 34 weeks, around 45 per cent of those whose mothers received the drug were actually born at term.

Better prediction and prevention of pre-term birth is needed, the authors say. In addition, the findings should inform doctors’ decisions about prescribing steroid drugs during pregnancy.