During my MAT program, I remember taking the required special education class and learning about all the different ways children can be affected prenatally. Besides environmental factors and genetics, one of the biggest risks to unborn children is maternal illness.
A review of research done at the University of Adelaide analyzed data from 6145 babies included in five trials of antenatal magnesium sulfate therapy. Professor Caroline Crowther, Director of the University of Adelaide's Australian Research Centre for Health of Women and Babies, based at the Women's & Children's Hospital says that "this new Cochrane review shows there is now evidence to support giving magnesium sulfate therapy to women at risk of very preterm birth to increase their unborn baby's chance of survival, free of cerebral palsy."
Magnesium sulfate has been used to treat neonatal brain injury associated with maternal inflammation or maternal infection. However, further investigation by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine found that more could be done with magnesium sulfate and they released the opinion that "available evidence suggests that magnesium sulfate given before anticipated preterm birth reduces the risk of cerebral palsy in surviving infants." In the study done in Georgia, it was found that prenatal exposure to magnesium sulfate did indeed decrease the risk of cerebral palsy in the infants born with very low birth weight and with the risk of mental retardation.
Another study published by the New England Journal of Medicine also examined the effects of magnesium sulfate when it was used to stop preterm labor. What they found was that mothers who received magnesium sulfate through an IV to stop preterm birth didn’t form any negative side effects. The children were not at risk of stillbirth or infant death before the age of one. They also found that magnesium sulfate was linked to a 45% reduced risk that a child would be diagnosed with moderate to severe cerebral palsy by age two.
Half of the mothers in the study were given placebos instead of magnesium sulfate and the results were that most of the children didn't develop cerebral palsy, no matter which group. However, 1.9% of the children in the magnesium sulfate group did eventually develop CP, compared to 3.5% of the children in the placebo group who did develop it by the age of two. Though the percentages are low, they do show that magnesium sulfate can be used to prevent the chances of cerebral palsy in children with very low birth weight and risk of MR by prenatal exposure.