Objective. Although numerous trials have demonstrated the efficacy of exogenous surfactant for prophylaxis or treatment of neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), optimum timing of administration remains controversial. One previous study showed that administration of calf lung surfactant extract immediately following birth, to neonates born before 30 weeks postconceptional age, was preferable to delaying administration until after development of RDS. The current study was designed to test a similar hypothesis for babies born between 29 and 32 weeks gestational age.

Design. One thousand three hundred ninety-eight neonates with obstetric estimates of 29 through 32 weeks' gestation were randomized to receive CLSE at birth or to wait until development of mild RDS. After exclusions for malformations and other factors, data from 1248 were analyzed.

Results. Prophylaxis was associated with less development of moderate RDS (7% vs 12%), less need for retreatment (5% vs 9%), less need for mechanical ventilation or supplemental oxygen during the first 4 days, and fewer deaths or less requirement for supplemental oxygen at 28 days (5% vs 9%). Although 1-minute Apgar scores were significantly lower in the prophylaxis group, the difference disappeared by the 5-minute score and there was no difference in the incidence of asphyxiarelated complications. Sixty percent of the neonates assigned to early treatment received endotracheal intubation and 43% received calf lung surfactant extract at a median age of 1.5 hours. When data were analyzed by gestational age and birth weight subgroups, most of the differences could be attributable to babies born at 30 weeks or less or weighing less than 1500 g, probably because of the higher incidence of surfactant deficiency in this more immature subgroup.

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