In this section
Support during pregnancy
Taking your epilepsy medicine during pregnancy
Risks to you and your baby if you have a seizure during pregnancy
Ways to lower the risks of having seizures when you are pregnant
Scans and tests during pregnancy
When you find out that you are pregnant, see your family doctor as soon as possible. They can arrange prompt referrals to support services, such as a midwife, obstetrician, neurologist, epilepsy specialist nurse or doctor. The level of support that you receive will depend very much on your individual circumstances.
If you receive support from a number of different medical professionals, you should have a shared-care plan in your hand-held pregnancy notes. This should include advice about who to contact if you have any concerns about your epilepsy, seizures or treatment.
If your seizures change while you are pregnant, ask your family doctor or epilepsy specialist for a review of your epilepsy medicine.
It is extremely important to keep taking your epilepsy medicine during pregnancy, unless your doctor advises you not to. If you suddenly stop taking your medicine without medical advice, this could cause you to have more seizures. In some circumstances, this could put your life at risk.
If nausea or vomiting make it difficult to take or keep down your epilepsy medicine, seek advice from your family doctor or epilepsy specialist straight away.
Unborn babies are not usually harmed by their mother having a seizure. However, it’s not ideal for you or your baby if you have seizures when you are pregnant.
There are many different types of epileptic seizure. Some common types of seizure are focal, absence, myoclonic, and tonic-clonic seizures.
- Focal, absence, and myoclonic seizures should not harm your unborn baby, unless you are injured, for example by falling.
- There is a very small risk that you or your unborn baby could be harmed if you had tonic-clonic seizures during your pregnancy. A tonic-clonic seizure could reduce the amount of oxygen that your baby gets, which could damage the baby’s central nervous system or organs. A tonic-clonic seizure could also cause injury to you or your baby, if you fall. This risk increases if you have frequent tonic-clonic seizures or status epilepticus. Status epilepticus is when a person has a seizure that lasts 30 minutes or longer. It can also be when a person has a cluster of shorter seizures for 30 minutes or more, with little recovery in between.
In all pregnancies, there is a small risk that the mother could die. This risk is increased slightly if you have epilepsy. There could be many reasons for this. One possible reason is that some women don’t take their epilepsy medicine as prescribed when they are pregnant. This can cause them to have many uncontrolled seizures, which increases the risk of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP).
Epilepsy Action has more information about SUDEP.
Most women do not notice a change in the number of seizures they have while they are pregnant. Here are some ways you can lower the risk of having seizures.
- Keep taking your epilepsy medicine as prescribed by your doctor.
- If nausea or vomiting make it difficult to take or keep down your epilepsy medicine, seek advice from your family doctor or epilepsy specialist straight away.
- Tell your doctor, midwife and epilepsy specialist about any seizures you have. If necessary, they can make changes to your epilepsy medicine to try and reduce your seizures.
- Try to get enough rest and sleep. Some people with epilepsy are more at risk of having a seizure if they are tired or have not had enough sleep.
There are a number of tests, such as scans and blood tests, offered to all pregnant women. Some tests are used to check the mother’s health. Other tests are used to check the baby’s health and growth.
Having epilepsy does not necessarily mean that you will need extra tests to check your health during pregnancy. However, sometimes your epilepsy specialist might ask you to have extra blood tests to check the level of epilepsy medicine in your blood. This is particularly recommended if you take lamotrigine, levetiracetam or oxcarbazepine. This is because levels of these medicines are known to fall during pregnancy.
If a blood test shows that the level of medicine in your blood has fallen, your epilepsy specialist might advise you to take a higher dose. They should also tell you how to safely reduce your dose again after you have had your baby. It’s important that they give you this information in advance, so that you know what to do in the early days after the birth.
All pregnant women are offered ultrasound development scans. These scans check the baby’s health and development. For example, they may detect problems such as a hole in the heart or a cleft palate. There are also blood tests available that show the risk of a baby having a condition such as spina bifida.
Whether or not to have tests done to check your baby’s development is your decision. You may choose to have all the tests available, or to have some tests but not others. Scans and tests can be particularly helpful if your baby has a higher risk of having an abnormality. They may reassure you about your baby’s health. If they show that your baby has an abnormality, your doctor will talk about different options. This may include advice on what help and support you will need to care for your baby. Your doctor may also give you information about ending the pregnancy.
If you want more information about ending a pregnancy or caring for a child with special needs, you can talk to your doctor. There are also several organisations that can give you help, advice and support.
If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. See Epilepsy and having a baby.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Beth Irwin, Epilepsy Nurse/Midwife, Royal Hospitals, Belfast, UK for reviewing this information.
Beth Irwin has no conflict of interest to declare.
This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.
- Updated September 2014To be reviewed September 2017