Lung maturity in the baby: what does a lung maturity injection do?

If there is a risk of premature birth, lung maturity can be stimulated with a cortisone injection. This reduces the risk of postnatal complications in the baby. In this article we will explain to you when a lung maturation injection makes sense, how it works and whether there are any side effects.

Lung maturity in the baby

If a baby is born around the expected due date , its lungs are so developed that they can function immediately after birth. The alveoli of the newborn are then kept under tension by the so-called surfactant factor. This ensures that sufficient air can flow into the lungs and the air sacs in the lungs do not collapse when you breathe out.

  • In babies who are born significantly prematurely, the lungs are not yet developed enough to keep the air sacs under tension. The consequence: Premature birth can lead to dangerous respiratory distress syndrome in the baby.
  • To prevent this, pregnant women who are threatened with premature birth are given the so-called lung maturity injection for the baby.
  • But when is lung maturity reached? In the 35th week of pregnancy , the baby’s lungs are fully mature. From this point on, giving an injection is no longer necessary and no longer useful.
  • Lung maturity treatment (IBS prophylaxis) is administered between 24 and 34 weeks of gestation (GW). Lung maturity before GW 22+0 does not make sense because the lung cells of the unborn child are not yet sufficiently developed.

Lung ripening syringe: what is it?

In the lung maturity treatment, the mother is given an intramuscular cortisone injection with the adrenal cortex hormone celestan (active ingredient bethamethasone). The dose is usually repeated after 24 hours.

  • The administered cortisone accelerates lung maturation in the unborn child. This reduces the likelihood that the baby will suffer from respiratory distress syndrome if the baby is born prematurely . In addition, the risk of cerebral hemorrhage and serious intestinal dysfunction (necrotizing enterocolitis, NEC) is reduced.
  • In order for the lung maturation injection to be effective, it must be administered at least 24 hours and at most seven days before the birth .
  • A lung maturity injection is given in the event of premature (cervical) contractions , premature rupture of membranes or heavy bleeding in late pregnancy .
  • The injection can usually be administered on an outpatient basis. So you don’t have to stay in the hospital overnight or for several days.
  • However, since the lung maturity treatment is mainly administered in the case of serious pregnancy problems, such as premature labor or premature rupture of membranes, the length of stay in the hospital depends on the respective indication and its treatment.

Injection side effects

The one-off administration of a lung ripening injection is considered harmless for both the unborn child and the mother. Long-term consequences for the child are also not to be expected. There are numerous studies on this that were summarized and published in a review article ( Cochrane Review ) in 2017.

  • The review states that the administration of a lung maturation injection for pregnant women and newborns is harmless – with the right indication and if the injections are administered in hospitals in high-income countries.
  • According to various studies that followed babies treated before birth into childhood or adulthood, no delays in growth or development could be observed. However, these results only apply to babies who were only given one course of cortisone (two shots within 24 hours).
  • On the other hand, a multiple lung maturity treatment is critically discussed. According to studies, this can cause developmental delays and damage. In addition, the risk of complications in the child increases. In a report on the induction of lung maturity, the Marien Clinic explains such risks.
  • Lung maturity has no significant side effects for the mother . About one in 100 women suffer from sleep disorders as a result of a second cortisone treatment, but these only last for a short period of time.
  • It is therefore important that the lung maturation injection is only administered in the event of an acute risk of miscarriage. Prophylactic administration – for example in the case of multiple pregnancies – is no longer recommended. 

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