Pregnancy and epilepsy
epilepsy; seizure; convulsion; epileptic; anticonvulsant; medication; folate; folic; acid;;
Generally speaking, having epilepsy should not prevent a woman planning to have a baby. But making a decision about whether to have a baby if you have epilepsy and need medication can be difficult. Over 90 percent of the babies born to women who take medication for epilepsy are normal and healthy. About 3% to 5% of babies born to all mothers have some type of birth defect. Having epilepsy and being on some types of medication about doubles this risk. Women with epilepsy who do not have to take medication have no increased risk of their baby having a birth defect.
The best way to improve your chances of a normal pregnancy and healthy baby is to consult your neurologist well before becoming pregnant to make a plan for the pregnancy. Most women who need to take medication for epilepsy will need to continue to take some medication during pregnancy. Some medications have a lower likelihood of causing problems and it may be possible to switch medications if needed.
If you have an unplanned pregnancy it is recommended that you continue your medication until you and your doctor can work out the best way to manage your epilepsy. Having a seizure does increase the risk of premature birth and other problems for the developing baby.
Some anticonvulsant medications increase the risk of a birth defect called a neural tube defect (such as spina bifida). Taking extra folate for several months before becoming pregnant and during the early weeks of pregnancy can lower this risk. The amount recommended is about 10 times higher than the amount recommended for mothers not taking these medications. For more information about folate and neural tube defects have a look at the topic Folic acid (Folate).
Most women with epilepsy will have a normal uncomplicated birth, and they will be able to breastfeed their baby.
References and further reading
Epilepsy Foundation (USA) 'Pregnancy and Epilepsy Medications'
Organisation of Teratology Information Specialists 'Fact Sheets'
Perinatal Practice Guideline 'Epilepsy and pregnancy management' http://www.health.sa.gov.au/PPG/Default.aspx?PageContentID=488&tabid=101
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see your doctor or midwife.