When you struggle with epilepsy on a day to day basis the idea of pregnancy bring up some very real worries. For years as a teen and young adult struggling with uncontrolled seizures, I often worried and wondered if having kids was even safe. I knew I wanted kids one day but wasn’t sure it was a good idea with my epilepsy. I was so unsure that when I met my husband I told him I didn’t want kids. I was too afraid they would suffer somehow from my seizure problem. As I write this I have 3 beautiful kids and am pregnant with our fourth baby. Needless to say, I changed my mind and here the top 5 things you need to know about epilepsy and pregnancy.
1. It Is Safe To Have Children When You Have Epilepsy?
In short, yes, it’s safe. According to Diagnostic Detectives video on epilepsy and pregnancy, it’s safe for about 90 percent of women. It’s good to keep in mind that preparations need to be made. They will want to put you on folic acid if you are thinking of becoming pregnant or at risk of becoming pregnant as this can help reduce any birth defects. They also will strive to find some sort of control with your seizures before you become pregnant. This will make the pregnancy safer for baby. You will need to be monitored a little closer while you are pregnant. They will especially need to keep an eye on your medication levels to make sure your levels don’t drop.
For that video about Epilepsy and Pregnancy from Diagnostic Detectives check out the link! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggjsQK4SkCw
2. Is Medication Safe During Pregnancy?
A woman shouldn’t stop taking medication because she is pregnant. This is discussed in the video link above. Having seizures during your pregnancy is more harmful than any medication you take. That being said there are medications that are known to cause problems with pregnancy and most doctors will try and switch you to a more safe medication for your pregnancy.
The risky medications shown in the image above are known to put your baby at risk for cognitive or behavioral abnormalities in a child and cleft lip. So it’s also good to know there are medications you can take with very low risk. Carbamazepine, lamotrigine, and levetiracetam are all seizure medications that are considered low risk or safe for pregnancy. For more information on these low-risk meds check out the Epilepsy Foundation’s Website. I will say that during my pregnancies I took levetiracetam without any problems. They also drew my levels more often to make sure my levels stayed where they needed to be.
3. Will My Baby Inherit My Epilepsy?
While Epilepsy can be genetic it normally isn’t. It’s very possible that your children will never experience a seizure themselves. If you do, however, know that your particular case is genetic then it’s something you will want to discuss with your Neurologist as the chances of your baby having epilepsy would be greater than your average epileptic. We must remember the causes for epilepsy vary greatly from person to person and many like myself never know why we suffer from it.
I will be honest and say this is still a big fear for me. What if one of my kids develops epilepsy one day as I did? So far none of my children have had epileptic seizures. My youngest did have a couple of febrile seizures, but they were due to a very high fever we ended up needing the hospital to help to bring down. In the end when my child did have that febrile seizure I will admit I was devastated and of course blamed myself, but it taught me something very important that we all should keep in mind when considering whether or not to have kids. If by chance your baby does end up with epilepsy who better to know how to support that child than you? Think about it you have walked that journey yourself. You will know the actions that need to be taken, how to keep them safe and help them feel loved when it gets hard. If anyone could handle that journey and challenge it’s you.
4. How Do I Care For Baby if I Am Still Having Seizures?
Having uncontrolled seizures and being a parent can certainly make having kids more challenging, but it isn’t impossible. When they are new I would just make sure you and your partner have a game plan to navigate parenting a newborn while having epilepsy. Create a safety plan that will work for your family. Does this mean hiring a nanny to help you out at home if you plan on staying home? Does this mean you need to work harder on avoiding triggers? Does this mean you work with friends and family to hang out with you when you are going to be alone with the baby when your partner is out?
When your kids are older take the time to educate your child on epilepsy and the kinds of seizures you have. For example, when my son and daughter were old enough to understand and began asking why I take pills each day I calmly told them about my epilepsy in terms they could understand. I said: ” Mommy’s brain doesn’t always work right. Sometimes my brain goes nuts and mommy will look funny or even fall down and shake if she doesn’t take her pills. If you ever see mommy act funny go get daddy. These pills keep mommy’s brain from causing trouble.”
I then began telling them when I had to go see my brain doctor. When they are older I will explain to them in more detailed terms on what my epilepsy is and give them a better action plan. Having epilepsy while parenting just means taking more safety precautions and safety planning. You can be a great parent. Your epilepsy doesn’t have to stop you.
5. Can I Breastfeed My Baby While On Medication?
You maybe wondering if you’ll be able to breastfeed your child once they arrive. While certainly you will want to discuss with your neurologist and ob first many women don’t have a problem with it. My first two I formula fed and that decision had nothing to do with my epilepsy and more my babies sensitivities (they were allergic). My third I did breastfeed just fine. I was on the generic form of Keppra. I personally hated it and won’t be breastfeeding my fourth. Breastfeeding exasperated my depression and my post partum depression got really bad and I won’t do that again. That being said even if you struggle with depression and you want to breastfeed go ahead and give it a shot. If it doesn’t work out for you and baby then you can always switch to formula later. Breast-milk definitely has it’s benefits, especially that first bit milk at the beginning. No matter which way you decide to go on feeding your baby don’t let anyone pressure you or shame you into a decision that just isn’t right for you.
While having epilepsy may mean you have a few extra things to consider and planning is much more emphasized it is completely possible for you to have a normal healthy baby. If you want kids and feel like you are in a place where you want to go for it then it maybe time to call up your neurologist and start planning.
To help you feel safe while pregnant be sure to grab my free seizure safety guide. A free printable brochure that you can keep with you or hand out to anyone who my need it so you don’t have to give the seizure talk over and over again.