How Can Betamethasone Prevent HIE?
While cerclage and progesterone are given to women at risk of preterm birth who have not yet gone into labor, there are methods to help babies who are about to be born preterm (especially those born before 34 weeks). Preterm babies aren’t fully developed and are often very fragile, which means that they may need help in maturing. For example, it is very common for preterm babies to having trouble breathing because their lungs can’t produce enough surfactant (a molecule that helps keep the lungs flexible and pliant). This means they may need ventilation or breathing assistance when they are born. To help the baby’s lungs mature more quickly, medical staff can give the mother betamethasone while the baby is still in utero in two doses 24 hours apart. This decreases the risk that the baby will have trouble breathing or need breathing help. That said, it is very common for babies to still need some extra surfactant to help them breathe nonetheless.
Reducing the need for breathing assistance and developing the baby’s lungs once a preterm birth is imminent helps reduce the risk of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy and other associated conditions like Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL) and hydrocephalus by cutting down on the risk that the baby’s tissues will not get an adequate oxygen supply after birth.
- Gyamfi-Bannermanm C, et al. Antenatal Betamethasone for Women at Risk for Late Preterm Delivery. New England Journal of Medicine 374 (14): 1311-20. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1516783.