Epilepsy & Pregnancy: How to Safely Play Your Little Ace

Epilepsy & Pregnancy: How to Safely Play Your Little Ace

Before a fair bit of research, I can’t claim to have known much about today’s topic. I’m only just beginning my career as a writer, and can’t help but feel that maintaining a relationship is a too risky business for me. I just don’t have the energy for it right now.

But I promise myself, my family, and my friends, that when finances are better fixed, and my career is moving smoothly, finding a woman I love will be a top priority. Most people think I’m a pretty nice guy.

This article isn’t about love alone though; it’s about that time when people make a plan to expand it, hoping to build attachments to the love they already have – pregnancy. When pregnancy is on the horizon after planning, it can certainly be a time celebrate. However, it is also a time when anxiety builds up, and maintaining a safer lifestyle shouldn’t be ignored by any parent.

Gift wrapped pregnant woman

After writing up the bad news on how epilepsy and pregnancy can cause problems for your child when you’re taking sodium valproate, I wanted to learn a bit more about the process and tell others about it too. When epilepsy and pregnancy combine, then staying safe is possible; but there’s a fair bit more research to do, and a stricter schedule to follow.

Here’s my overview of the key points to remember about epilepsy and pregnancy.

Building the Safety Net

Before it all starts, it’s so much smarter to plan it all out properly. Before taking the jump so many parents can’t help but fear, you need to see your doctor and find out more about how your current medication could interfere. A lack of knowledge on the risks of sodium valproate when pregnant proved to be much too common last month, and a disappointing part of September’s epilepsy-related news.

Don’t believe it’s just that one drug that’s dangerous – because it’s not. Talk to your GP and specialist to find out more. Ask them as many questions as you can! In the UK, I’d say it’s better to squeeze everything you can out of the NHS. It’s understandably difficult for doctors and nurses to get everything right, so try and give them a helping hand.

Your epilepsy medicine isn’t the only thing to know more about either. Pre-conception counselling should be considered, and your doses of folic acid often need to be increased. Epilepsy can be so different for everybody, and so can epilepsy and pregnancy. Once again, I say talk to your doctors.

Epilepsy Medicines and Pregnancy

Women with epilepsy shouldn’t hold back from getting pregnant because there’s a good chance your child will be born with no problems whatsoever. However, epilepsy medicines can cause specific problems, and include:

  • Minor congenital abnormalities
  • Major congenital abnormalities
  • Neurodevelopmental problems

Rather than explain each of these issues with you, I suggest you take a trip to the Epilepsy Action advice page that offers information on epilepsy medicine and pregnancy. There you will find more detailed information and a set chart that notes the drugs with a risk of abnormalities by percentage.

Getting Pregnant

After browsing many websites about epilepsy, it seems women with the condition have more to understand about it than men. A separate section that discusses contraception, periods and the menopause are all mentioned to offer further advice to women on the Epilepsy Action website.

Unfortunately, women can find it difficult to get pregnant due to their menstrual cycle being affected by their epilepsy, their seizures, their age or their medication. It can also be affected by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Women with epilepsy may also have a slightly higher risk of reduced fertility.

If you’re struggling to get pregnant, then again, you can find out more details about getting pregnant via Epilepsy Action. As mentioned before, I’m no expert on this topic, but am sure that talking to your doctor about any issues when getting pregnant isn’t a bad idea either.

During Pregnancy

As soon as pregnancy is confirmed, see your family doctor so that referrals to healthcare professionals can soon be made. You’ll need to see a midwife, obstetrician, neurologist, as well as an epilepsy specialist nurse or doctor. Good news it may be, but there are quite a few things to consider.

Around one in every three pregnant women with epilepsy are due to have seizures during their waiting time. It all comes down to the type of epilepsy they have, whether they take their medication on time, or a lack of sleep during the night. Women may also have seizures due to fluctuating levels of epilepsy medicine in their blood, so it’s recommended that you take regular blood tests when pregnant to find out if this is the case.

Pregnant lady in purple

There’s no evidence saying that partial, myoclonic or absence seizures harm your baby. However, tonic-clonic seizures could lead to injury from drowning, motor vehicle accidents and falls. Any significant injury to the abdomen could lead to bleeding or your waters breaking early. This injury could then lead to infection and early labour – although the risk of this is low. One other thing that could be harmful to your baby when pregnant is a lack of oxygen when you have a seizure, particularly if you have more than one, or have status epilepticus.

Women always have a small risk of death when pregnant, and that risk is slightly increased with epilepsy. It is very rare but could come down to lacking or not taking their epilepsy medicine. This mistake can cause uncontrolled seizures, and increases the risk of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP).

To find out more about living well during pregnancy click here to view Epilepsy Action’s webpage.

Giving Birth

Most women with epilepsy will have a standard vaginal delivery. If seizures are likely on your day of birth, then a consultant-led maternity unit will be advised to make sure you receive one-to-one care from a midwife. Facilities will also be easier to access if you or your baby need emergency treatment.

Before it all happens, your midwife and doctors will work with you to do an individual risk assessment and care plan. There are a few options to consider when choosing your preferred place to give birth, and knowing the safest ways to do so are important. You need to choose where you wish to give birth, although you might find it difficult to agree on the safest option for yourself and your baby.

To lower your risks of having seizures during labour, then stay organised by making sure you have your own epilepsy medicine with you, and set up a reminder to take it at the usual time. You should also do your best to avoid any known triggers of seizures (such as tiredness and stress) and ask the midwife for help if you are finding it hard to take or keep your epilepsy medicine down.

Pain relief is something else to consider in labour. Although breathing exercises and gas and air can be good for relieving pain, try not to breathe too much as this can provoke seizures. The pain relief drug pethidine is also at more risk of triggering seizures than an alternative such as diamorphine.

There are more little tips to pick up about giving birth – and once again, Epilepsy Action is more equipped than I am. Click here to view their webpage on giving birth.

After the Birth

Although you may want to talk to your midwife first, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t breastfeed your baby. Epilepsy can pass into your breastmilk, but this isn’t usually harmful as your baby will be used to it from being in your womb. However, it’s best to consult your doctor if your baby seems very sleepy, hard to wake, struggling to feed or has a rash.

Mother holding her baby

If a lack of sleep is a trigger of your seizures, then breastfeeding could be difficult to maintain if your night-time sleep is regularly broken. Getting your baby into an early bedtime routine could be helpful, as could expressing some breast or formula milk in advance for somebody else to feed your baby, so you have the opportunity to catch up on much needed sleep.

There are many other ways to reduce the risk of seizures when you are looking after your baby or young child, as well as caring for your baby when you have epilepsy. Post-natal depression is also a possibility, and you could well also need to adjust your epilepsy medicine after giving birth.

If you’d like to know more about this, then yes, Epilepsy Action know the way better than me. I recommend taking a look at their ‘After the Birth’ webpage.

Further Information

Forgive me for lacking all the needed details about epilepsy and pregnancy in this article, but there are so many things to mention that I just can’t fit into this document! As mentioned, I’m no expert, and my time spent writing single articles is restricted. This blog post is more of an overview for any person with epilepsy to browse over when first wondering ‘how easy would it be?’.

Epilepsy Action is the main educator on today’s topic. There are more tips to pick up, as well as info on inheritance and sources of support. I recommend you read through Epilepsy Action’s full section about epilepsy and having a baby if it’s something you’re due for and have considered in the not so distant future.

So there we go – that’s 1603 words. I hope you enjoyed the read and found it useful.

 

2 x 8 months by Ben Raynal / Baby Closeup by KOMUnews / Geschenk fig.1 by Torsten Mangner

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