Magnesium sulfate is an intravenous medication often given to women in order to prevent premature births. A recent study shows that it also may possibly reduce the chances of babies later being diagnosed with moderate to severe cerebral palsy.

The study was published in the 28 August online issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, NEJM.

For the research, Rouse and colleagues studied 2,241 women who were at risk of going into premature labour between their 24th and 31st week of pregnancy. Women were either given magnesium sulfate or a placebo.

The researchers followed the surviving babies for two years.

The results showed that:

  • There was no significant differences between the two groups in the combined risk of moderate or severe palsy or death  
  • Secondary analysis showed that moderate or severe cerebral palsy occurred significantly less frequently in the magnesium sulfate group (1.9 per cent versus 3.5 per cent more cases in the placebo group, giving a relative risk of 0.55, ie 45 per cent less risk of moderate or severe cerebral palsy in the treatment group).

The authors concluded that:
"Fetal exposure to magnesium sulfate before anticipated early preterm delivery did not reduce the combined risk of moderate or severe cerebral palsy or death, although the rate of cerebral palsy was reduced among survivors."

An editorial in the same issue of the journal said the study showed promising results but did not recommend using magnesium sulphate in anticipated preterm labour as a way to prevent cerebral palsy.