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Antenatal tests and scans

These diaries were written in 2012 by mums with epilepsy. Lots of mums-to-be have found them really helpful and reassuring.

For up-to-date information about epilepsy and having a baby, go to Epilepsy Action's advice and information pages.

My favourite pregnancy moments were the scans. Just the pure wonder of seeing this tadpole growing into a real baby. I asked our mums about their scans and tests.

Early scans and dating scans

Rebecca: My 12-week scan was completely surreal. I had been feeling very ill with morning sickness - why is it called morning sickness when it lasts all day! So there was no doubt in my mind that I was pregnant. But until I saw that tiny shape pop up on the screen, I really didn't believe it could be true. As soon as I saw that little blob, everything seemed to change. I was going to be a mum. Hearing the heart beat was unbelievable. There really was the start of a new little person in there. I felt so excited. I realised then that - epilepsy or no epilepsy - this was going to be an amazing experience and a new adventure for me and my husband to share.

Nicola: The day of the first scan, I’m there outside the hospital, waiting for my boyfriend Gerald to turn up for the scan. Eventually I call him and find out he set his reminder alarm for 11pm not 11am. Luckily there is a delay and he rushes into the ultrasound room just as the monitor is being attached.

This is amazing. With the help of some interpretation from the doctor we can pick out little arms and legs, tummy, head and little heart beating away. Everything looks fine. The relief is overwhelming. From now on, I think I am going to enjoy my pregnancy.

Clair: The most amazing part of every pregnancy I think - for most people - is seeing that first scan. It makes it all real. Up until that point I didn’t quite believe it. I thought I was just going to feel groggy for the rest of my life!

However, I was still worried about whether my medication or my seizures had affected my baby. When the scan was completely normal, I was so relieved. I asked if they could tell if the baby had cleft palate (the most common malformation linked with lamotrigine). She said they couldn’t see it on this early scan, so couldn’t say for sure, but said that she could see the baby’s stomach was full. Often babies with cleft palate can’t swallow as well (even in the womb). It just put my mind at rest.

Jennifer: We had numerous ultrasound scans. This included a very early one (six weeks). This was because we'd had reproductive assistance. Anyone going through that is given a six week scan.
Given our earlier loss, the hospital were lovely and gave us a 10 week scan for our sanity - to prove the little bean was still alive and well.
Ingrid: At the 12-week scan my baby had her spine pointing towards the scanner so we got a great view of that. I was really pleased as I was worried in case her spine hadn’t formed correctly. I had been taking folic acid since I started trying for a baby. But I still worried, as people with epilepsy have a greater risk of having a child with spina bifida. I was also relieved there was only one baby there as twins run in my family. I was convinced there were two in there, as I felt so tired and looked quite big.

Mid-term scan 17 – 21 weeks

Rebecca: My experience of the 20-week scan was really different. I was terrified that something would be wrong with the baby and I would blame myself for continuing to take my medication. I started to wonder if I'd been selfish to carry on taking it. Wasn't the baby more important than me being ill? Thankfully I found out that my baby (a boy!) appeared to be developing well and was very big for his age. It was such a relief!

Nicola: The day of the 20-week scan arrives and we can see our little boy (no question about the gender, Gerald is suitably proud). We have a name for him - Mr Wriggly. Can’t stop kicking and wriggling about, making it hard for the ultrasound doctor to get the measurements and do all the checks. But in the end he gets a clean bill of health. Another sigh of relief and I return home walking on air (although I am definitely feeling heavy).
Now I really am trying to get my act together health wise. Banana milkshakes are the way to go. Every day a banana and half a pint of milk are blended and drank… yum yum yum. I’m not so keen on the sardines Gerald is making me eat, but it’s all in a good cause.

Extra scans and antenatal tests

Rebecca: I had some extra scans later on in pregnancy and every time they said something like 'he's a big boy isn't he'. Whenever one of the midwives took a measurement of my stomach, they raised their eyebrows a little! At first I was very proud of this, but as the birth got closer that changed to fear. Fear about how this giant baby was going to come out of my body!
Jennifer: We chose not to have blood tests to show disability or test for Down’s syndrome etc, as it wouldn't have changed the outcome for us. I wouldn't have terminated the pregnancy unless severe spina bifida, for example, had shown at ultrasound and the pregnancy was definitely going to be lost. For these reasons we passed on these tests.

Emma H: In both of my pregnancies I had a late scan at 32 weeks. I suppose they were arranged because I was on two epilepsy medicines and because I’d had a few seizures. 

I was relieved when the doctor suggested having an extra scan. If any malformation or problems had been found with our baby, it would have given us time to prepare and come to terms with any shock news before the baby arrived. 

All went fairly well, and fortunately no malformations were found.

Emma: In shock - from finding out that my epilepsy medicine could interact with my contraceptive implant - and that I WAS pregnant - I made an urgent appointment with my GP. My GP referred me for a dating scan, which I had in November 2010. 

During the scan the sonographer asked us, "Are you trying for a baby?" Obviously we said no, why?  "Well, both heartbeats are strong and fine!" OMG, twins!”

“Some epilepsy medicines can reduce the effectiveness of contraception, and as Emma found out this can lead to an unplanned pregnancy.” Nicole (Editor)

The midwife will discuss optional screening tests that are offered during pregnancy. This includes a combination of an ultrasound scan and blood screening for Down’s syndrome. Some epilepsy medicines can increase the risk of major congenital malformations. This understandably can lead to increased anxiety and worry about the health of your baby. The advantage of having this test is if a physical condition were to be detected. You can then discuss your potential options and specialist support can be planned in a timely manner. You can access further information about screening. Kim

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