1If you want to be a parent, your epilepsy should not stop you
2Some contraception is less effective with some epilepsy medicines
3Some women with epilepsy have a slightly higher risk of reduced fertility than women who don’t have epilepsy
4If you want to start a family it’s really good idea to plan this in advance. Your epilepsy doctor may think it’s a good idea for you to change medicines. This would have to happen slowly
5Some epilepsy medicines are more safe during pregnancy than others. Some epilepsy medicines can cause birth defects
6If you have uncontrolled seizures you will need to think especially carefully about safety and support. Epilepsy Action has information to help
Valproate medicines can seriously harm an unborn baby
Valproate medicines include sodium valproate (Epilim, Episenta, Epival, Depakote) and valproic acid (Convulex).
In the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has issued rules about prescribing valproate medicines. These rules say doctors must not prescribe valproate to women or girls of childbearing potential, unless it is the only medicine that will work.
If you are being prescribed a valproate medicine and there is the potential for getting pregnant, your doctor will ask you to enrol on a pregnancy prevention programme (PPP). This could be even if you’re not having sex with a man. The programme requires you signing a form to:
- Confirm you understand the risks of getting pregnant while taking valproate medicine, and
- Agree to use effective contraception while using valproate as a treatment
The Epilepsy Action website has more information about valproate medicines
Some other medicines also have a risk of birth defects but research shows the risk is lower than valproate medicines. There’s more information on the Epilepsy Action website about epilepsy medicines in pregnancy
Because some epilepsy medicines can be harmful to unborn babies, it is always best to avoid unplanned pregnancy if at all possible
If you’re planning a pregnancy, make an appointment with your epilepsy nurse or doctor for pre-conception counselling
Talk to your epilepsy doctor about the best way to limit your seizures during pregnancy
Talk to your healthcare team about a birth plan to reduce the risk of having seizures during delivery
All women are recommended to take folic acid before and during pregnancy. Women taking epilepsy medicines should take a higher dose
If you get pregnant, whether you’ve planned it or not, don’t stop taking your epilepsy medicine unless your doctor tells you to. Stopping epilepsy medicine suddenly could make you have more frequent or more severe seizures, and could even put your life at risk.
If your GP is providing your epilepsy care and you think you need to see a specialist during pregnancy, ask for referral to a neurologist. You can ask your GP, midwife or obstetrician to refer you. How epilepsy care is provided for pregnant women may vary depending on where you live.
Practical parenting tips
- Talk through a birth plan with someone you trust to support you well
- Plan for support you might need once the baby is born. This will especially include ways to get some regular sleep
- Feed and change your baby sitting on the floor
- If you have memory problems, keep a note of when you have fed the baby
- Make sure you have a dosette box for your epilepsy medicine. Your routines will be very disrupted for a long time, making it harder to remember your tablets
- If you live on more than one floor, keep nappy changing materials on each floor
- If possible, ask somebody else to carry the baby up and down stairs. If it’s not possible, carry them in a car seat – this will help to protect them if you fall during a seizure
- Don’t use irons, curling tongs or hair straighteners when you are alone with a baby or young child
- Ask someone to help with stocking up the freezer so you can continue to eat regularly
Stories by you
Read Ally’s thoughts about becoming a parent.
Read Abbie’s experience of becoming pregnant.
Abbie writes about being pregnant.
Read Abbie’s tips for looking after a baby when you have epilepsy.
A blog by Faye about her experience of pregnancy and being a mum
Write down any thoughts or concerns you have about how your epilepsy might affect becoming a mum. You could discuss them with your epilepsy nurse or doctor at your next appointment.