Pregnancy and Epilepsy

Doctor using stethoscope on pregnant patients stomach
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Pregnancy is a time of big change for all women, but for women with epilepsy, it can present special challenges — not only can the hormonal changes affect the frequency of seizures, the increased stress of being pregnant can alter the rate of seizures as well.

If you're considering having a baby, and you have epilepsy, you're not alone: It's estimated that annually more than 24,000 babies are born to moms with epilepsy.

What Does This Mean for You?

Exactly how pregnancy will affect you and your seizure condition is hard to predict. According to current research:

  • Roughly 20% to 30% women with epilepsy noted that their seizure activity increased during pregnancy.
  • Between 7% to 25% saw their seizure activity decrease during pregnancy
  • Between 50% to 83% of women with epilepsy noted that their seizure activity did not change during pregnancy.

One reason for a possible increase in seizure activity during pregnancy is the dramatic hormonal changes. Additionally, there are other, indirect problems during pregnancy that may influence seizure activity, such as:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Increased stress levels

Also, certain seizure types — such as generalized tonic-clonic seizures — are more likely to cause complications to mother and baby.

What to Do If You Have Epilepsy and Want to Have a Baby

First and foremost, talk to your healthcare provider before you decide to conceive.

In women with epilepsy, careful planning is important so that your healthcare provider can make sure that you are healthy, as well as the baby you are carrying. Your healthcare provider will take many things into consideration, including:

  • Seizure activity — Your healthcare provider will ensure that you have your seizures under control. If you have poor control of your seizures, he or she may modify your medication. Good seizure control will ensure that you and baby will remain healthy and accident-free.
  • Medication use — Your healthcare provider will assess the medications you are taking to control your seizures. Some antiepileptic drugs may have adverse effects on the fetus, including birth defects such as lip malformation, heart defects, and neurological defects. Your healthcare provider may change your medications before you try to conceive or continue your medications and closely monitor you through your pregnancy.

If you were not able to see your provider before becoming pregnant, see your healthcare provider as soon as you suspect that you are pregnant so that you can get optimal prenatal care.

Finally, all women of childbearing age should consider taking folic acid supplementation regardless of their short-term plans. This can prevent certain birth defects, and it's best to start taking it before becoming pregnant.


Pennell P. Pregnancy in Women Who have Epilepsy. Neurologic Clinics 2004; 22:799-820.