By: 13 January 2014

A new study funded by the health charity Wellbeing of Women reveals that pregnant women who use liberal amounts of strong topical steroids run a slightly increased risk of having underweight babies.

Topical steroids are often used by pregnant women with skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. These skin conditions can worsen during the gestational period due to the skin stretching and hormone fluctuations.

The study, led by Professor Fenella Wojnarowska at the University of Oxford and Dr Ching-Chi Chi, involved almost 2,700 pregnant women who used topical steroids as well as a control group of over 7,200 pregnant women who did not.

The study, recently published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, showed that women who used potent forms of this medication – more than 300 grams during their entire pregnancy – were at greater risk of having babies with a low birth weight than their peers.

Doctors and dermatologists are therefore advised to prescribe strong topical steroids for pregnant women only when necessary. Patients should also be advised to use topical steroids in sparing quantities.

Liz Campbell, Director of the charity, said: “I am very pleased that Wellbeing of Women commissioned this study as it finally answers the question about whether topical steroids are safe during pregnancy.

“Pregnant women often worry about using these creams but until now we’ve had no conclusive evidence.

“Looking at the data taken from nearly 10,000 pregnancies UK wide, the results show that strong topical steroids should be used only if essential and specialist obstetric care should be provided to monitor the baby’s weight.”

Dr Ching-Chi Chi said: “This study found no relation between maternal use of topical steroids and adverse pregnancy outcomes including orofacial cleft, preterm delivery, foetal death, low Apgar score, and mode of delivery.

“However, the chance of low birth weight would increase if pregnant women use very large amounts of high-potency topical steroid.”