A new report shows the last-minute treatment appears to be safe for both mother and child, but researchers stress that this finding needs to be repeated in further studies before it's adopted as standard practice.
Infants who are born very prematurely at less than 30 weeks of gestation are at increased risk of death as well as neurological problems or disabilities. A full-term pregnancy is between 38 and 42 weeks of gestation.
Treatment Shows Promise
Researchers say although some previous studies have suggested that magnesium sulfate might help protect the brains of premature infants against complications, there hadn't been any large, randomized, controlled studies to look at the issue.
In this study, published in the Nov. 26 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers compared the effects of magnesium sulfate vs. placebo in 1,062 women with fetuses under 30 weeks' gestation who were expected to give birth within 24 hours.
The women were randomly assigned to receive either an infusion of magnesium sulfate or a placebo solution intravenously for up to 24 hours before birth, and then researchers followed the women and their babies for about two years.
Researchers found that the children of women who got the magnesium sulfate had lower risks of death and cerebral palsy compared with the others, but those differences were not significantly different.
However, there was a significant reduction in other neurological problems, such as muscular abnormalities.
Researchers say although the study did not show differences in some of the treatment outcomes, the decrease in muscular problems could have potentially important treatment implications and merit further study.