Infants born at term by elective caesarean section are more likely to develop respiratory morbidity than infants born vaginally. Prophylactic corticosteroids in singleton preterm pregnancies accelerate lung maturation and reduce the incidence of respiratory complications.
The objective of this review was to assess the effect of prophylactic corticosteroid administration before elective caesarean section at term, as compared to usual management without corticosteroids, in reducing neonatal respiratory morbidity and admission to special care with respiratory complications.
We searched Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth's Trials Register (14 June 2017), and reference lists of retrieved studies.
Randomised controlled trials comparing prophylactic antenatal corticosteroid administration (betamethasone or dexamethasone) with placebo or with no treatment, given before elective caesarean section at term (at or after 37 weeks of gestation).
Two review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion and risk of bias, extracted data and checked them for accuracy. We assessed the quality of the evidence using the GRADE approach.
We included four trials (3956 women and 3893 neonates) at a moderate risk of bias, comparing prophylactic administration of betamethasone or dexamethasone versus placebo or usual treatment without steroids in term elective caesarean section. Women randomised to treatment group received either two intramuscular doses of betamethasone in the 48 hours before delivery, or intramuscular dexamethasone (two or four doses) prior to delivery (at 37 weeks' gestation or 48 hours before delivery), and were compared to the control group who received a saline placebo or treatment as usual.Prophylactic antenatal corticosteroid administration appeared to decrease the risk of respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) (risk ratio (RR) 0.48; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.27 to 0.87; 4 studies; 3817 participants; low-quality evidence), transient tachypnoea of the neonate (TTN) (RR 0.43; 95% CI 0.29 to 0.65; 4 studies; 3821 participants; low-quality evidence), admission to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for respiratory morbidity (RR 0.42; 95% CI 0.22 to 0.79; 3 studies; 3441 participants), and admission to neonatal special care (all levels) for respiratory complications (RR 0.45; 95% CI 0.22 to 0.90; 1 study; 942 participants; low-quality evidence). Administration of antenatal corticosteroids also appeared to reduce admission to neonatal special care (RR 0.62; 95% CI 0.43 to 0.89; 2 studies; 2169 participants) and neonatal intensive care (RR 0.14; 95% CI 0.03 to 0.61; 1 study; 452 participants) for any indication, compared to placebo or usual care. Finally, prophylactic antenatal corticosteroids also appeared to reduce the length of stay in NICU by 2.70 days (mean difference (MD) -2.70; 95% CI -2.76 to -2.64; 2 studies; 32 participants).No reduction was found in the need for mechanical ventilation (RR 0.67; 95% CI 0.27 to 1.68; 3 studies; 3441 participants; very-low quality), perinatal death (RR 0.67; 95% CI 0.11 to 4.10; 4 studies; 3893 participants) or neonatal sepsis (RR 1.00; 95% CI 0.06 to 15.95; 2 studies; 2214 participants) .There were no reported events of neonatal respiratory complications (other than RDS and tachypnoea of the newborn (TTN)), chronic lung disease, duration of mechanical ventilation or maternal postpartum infection, therefore results on these outcomes are non-estimable. The studies did not provide data on other pre-defined outcomes.The quality of evidence, as assessed using GRADE was low for the outcomes of RDS, TTN and admission to NICU for respiratory morbidity, indicating that the true effect could potentially be substantially different from our estimate of effect.
The results from the four trials are promising, but more high-quality studies with larger sample sizes that are adequately powered to detect the effect of prophylactic antenatal corticosteroids on outcomes of respiratory morbidity are needed, given the potential of the current studies for bias. Consideration should be given to the balance between statistical significance and clinical significance, particularly in view of the low event rates of significant respiratory morbidity (RDS or admission to NICU for respiratory complications) in this population. In addition, further trials on the long-term outcomes of these infants are needed to identify any potential harms and complications of antenatal corticosteroid administration at term.