If You Have Epilepsy, You Can Be a Mother, Too

Modern treatment, careful management can help you have a healthy pregnancy

If You Have Epilepsy, You Can Be a Mother, Too

Contributor: Elaine Wyllie, MD

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If you or someone you love is a woman with epilepsy, you may be wondering if motherhood is an option. The good news is that in most cases, the answer is yes.

But not everyone is aware of the possibilities. When one of my patients with epilepsy and her husband wanted to start a family, they were concerned because her childhood seizures had recently recurred after almost a decade of good control.

Now she was having petit mal seizures almost every day, causing brief interruptions in her awareness of her surroundings. If Sarah did get pregnant, would her baby be healthy? And if her seizures remained frequent after delivery, would she be able to care for her child?

To her dismay, my patient’s gynecologist recommended avoiding pregnancy altogether. But she and her husband still hoped that having a family might be possible.

They decided to consult with a specialist in neurology and epilepsy medicine, and to their relief, the new doctor expressed a different opinion. She explained that with modern treatment and careful management, most women with epilepsy can safely fulfill a pregnancy and give birth to a perfectly healthy baby.

She collaborated closely with her new physician, and together they made several changes in her medications to reduce seizures and minimize risk for the unborn child. Once the changes were accomplished, her seizures came under control. She quickly became pregnant, and nine months later, she delivered a healthy baby boy.

RELATED: Is Laser Ablation the Right Treatment for Your Epilepsy?

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Plan for motherhood

My patient’s experience is not unusual. Over the years, many otherwise healthy women with epilepsy have had the mistaken impression that motherhood is not an option. Now we know that with careful medical management, most women with epilepsy can plan for motherhood with confidence.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but for women experiencing epilepsy, the first step is family planning. It is important to prevent an accidental pregnancy until after several safeguards are in place, to ensure that risks to the unborn child are as low as possible.

Some commonly used anti-epileptic medications interact with oral birth control pills in an unfavorable way, and in this case, it is wise to consider other alternatives. A conversation with your doctor will help you decide which contraceptive method is best for you.

During the planning period for your pregnancy, your doctor will take a fresh look to be sure that your medical diagnosis is up to date. Your doctor may wish to recheck your electroencephalogram and brain wave test and possibly perform other testing.

RELATED: What To Do When Medicine No Longer Stops Your Epileptic Seizures

After you’re pregnant

Your doctor almost certainly will recommend that you start taking folic acid and a prenatal vitamin daily. And if you are experiencing active seizures, or if you are taking a medication associated with an increased risk of harm to the unborn child, your doctor may tell you to make changes in your daily regimen.

The adjustment process will continue until you and your doctor are confident that your seizures are under the best possible control, with minimal risk to a baby.

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Once your baby is on the way, your doctor will closely monitor the levels of anti-epileptic medication in your bloodstream, as these often change throughout pregnancy. The doses may need to be increased as pregnancy progresses, and then reduced again after delivery.

Close collaboration among you, your neurologist and your obstetrician will ensure that your drug levels remain stable throughout the pregnancy and after your baby arrives, and that your seizures remain under the best possible control.

For some women with severe epilepsy or other serious health challenges or disabilities, pregnancy may not be advisable. But we are happy to report that, thanks to modern health care and medications, most women with epilepsy are just as likely to achieve pregnancy and deliver healthy babies as anyone else.

More information
Epilepsy treatment guide

This post is based on one of a series of articles produced by U.S. News & World Report in association with the medical experts at Cleveland Clinic. 

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