Did your Premature Baby Receive Adequate Protection with Magnesium Sulphate?

Being born prematurely, before 37 weeks, can place babies at increased risk of certain health conditions, including cerebral palsy. Research shows these babies have a lower risk of having cerebral palsy when their mother is given a magnesium sulphate infusion before delivery.  A new study has been published which shows that when women, who are about to deliver premature babies, receive this treatment, their babies had just over 30% less risk of developing cerebral palsy.

When a baby is born prematurely, their brain is more vulnerable to damage.  Damage can occur when there is bleeding in the brain and research has shown that this can affect between 15 – 20% of babies born earlier than 32 weeks.  Magnesium sulphate is known to help protect the brain of babies born prematurely but it is not fully understood how it does this.  It may help keep blood pressure in the baby’s brain more stable or block certain chemicals from causing damage to the cells in the brain.

Around 2 – 9% of the total number of premature babies born before 34 weeks are affected by cerebral palsy.  Cerebral palsy affects the way the body moves and is usually diagnosed when a child or infant does not use their arms, hands or legs in a way expected for its age.  They may have reduced movement or stiffness in their limbs or they may have movements that they cannot control. The way the body moves is controlled by the brain and damage to a baby’s brain in pregnancy, birth or early childhood can cause cerebral palsy.

In Canada, magnesium sulphate infusions should be considered for those who are likely to deliver a baby before 34 weeks’ gestation within the next 4 – 24 hours.  A premature delivery may be suspected when the membranes around baby have prematurely ruptured, or broken, or where the cervix (the neck of the womb) is found to be dilated when mom is examined. The infusions are given through an intravenous (IV) line directly into the mother’s vein.  The infusion may be given as one dose over 30 minutes alone, or with an additional infusion continuing until the premature baby is born. The infusion can make the mother feel flushed, nauseous and warm and so women often know if they have received this form of treatment. Magnesium sulphate infusions are considered safe for both mother and baby, and serious adverse effects are rare.  There are certain circumstances where it is not advised that the mother receive this treatment, including where she is known to have suffered an allergic reaction to magnesium sulphate in the past or has certain heart conditions.

This new research looked at studies which included over 6,000 babies born prematurely and followed them up to 18 months to 2 years of age.  The premature babies who were born to mothers who received magnesium sulphate were compared with premature babies born to mothers who did not receive magnesium sulphate.  Babies whose moms had received magnesium sulphate had a relative risk reduction of 0.68 which means a more than 30% reduced risk of developing cerebral palsy. This research is encouraging for those providing medical care for mothers about to deliver before 34 weeks as this form of treatment has the potential to reduce the risk of cerebral palsy and impact significantly on the families caring for premature babies. 

If you have questions about whether or not your premature baby received adequate protection from magnesium sulphate before birth, please contact infant child injuries attorney for a free consultation to discuss your concerns.  Our cerebral palsy lawyers will do their best to answer your questions and provide you with legal advice about whether or not your child may be entitled to fair compensation for any special care or support required by your child as a result of a birth related injury.  You may reach us at [email protected] or at 604 685-2361. 

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Letty Condon


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