I have epilepsy. Are there risks to me if I become pregnant?
Women who have epilepsy and become pregnant have a higher risk for pregnancy-related complications than pregnant women who don't have epilepsy. These complications include:
- Vaginal bleeding
- The possibility that your seizures may occur more often
- Preeclampsia (a condition during pregnancy that is a combination of high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine after 20 weeks of pregnancy)
- Separation of the placenta (the organ that provides nourishment for the baby during pregnancy) from the uterus (womb)
Pregnancy affects each woman who has epilepsy differently. Some women actually experience fewer seizures than normal while pregnant.
Are there risks to my baby?
More than 90% of women who have epilepsy deliver normal, healthy babies. But there are some risks. Babies of mothers who have epilepsy have a higher risk of the following:
- Being stillborn or being born premature
- Developing seizure disorders as they get older
- Delays in development and growth
- Bleeding problems in the baby after birth
- Birth defects caused by the medicine you take. However, it is important that you follow your doctor’s directions for taking your medicine. The risks of not taking your medicine are much higher for you and your baby. These include physical injury, developmental delay and even death from your seizures.
What can I do to help protect myself and my baby?
It's very important that you take your antiseizure medicine just as your doctor tells you. If you haven't had any seizures for 2 years or more, your doctor may want to slowly stop your seizure medicine before you become pregnant or while you are pregnant. However, you should not stop taking this medicine on your own.
As with all pregnant women, it's also very important for you to take prenatal vitamin supplements and folic acid, which can help prevent certain kinds of birth defects. Start taking these vitamins before you get pregnant to get the most benefit. Because your antiseizure medicine may change how your body absorbs folic acid, your doctor may recommend a type of prenatal vitamin with a higher dose of folic acid. Tell your doctor about any history of brain or spinal defects in your family (or in the family of the baby's father). Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly are other things you can do to have a safe and healthy pregnancy.
What can I expect when I'm pregnant?
During your pregnancy, you will see your doctor often. Your doctor will perform frequent blood tests to be sure that you're getting enough antiseizure medicine. It's very common for your doctor to change the dose of your medicine during your pregnancy. He or she may also want you to have several ultrasound exams (called sonograms) during your pregnancy. Your doctor may even want you to have an amniocentesis. In this procedure, a small amount of fluid is removed from your uterus. This fluid gives your doctor some information about the health of your unborn baby. These extra precautions are a way for your doctor to monitor your pregnancy and your unborn baby's development.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff