If you or someone you love is a woman with epilepsy, then 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 and her husband desired 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.
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.
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. He or she may wish to recheck your EEG, or electroencephalogram, brain wave test, and possibly perform some other testing. It will certainly be recommended 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, then you may be advised 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 the baby.
Once your baby is on the way, your doctor will closely monitor the levels of antiepileptic 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 between 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.