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Pregnancy Considerations for Women With Epilepsy

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If you’re a person with a uterus who also has epilepsy, you might be both excited and concerned about the idea of having a baby. A lot of people ask, “Can a woman with epilepsy have a baby?” You’re not alone if you’re wondering the same. Here’s everything you need to know about epilepsy and pregnancy.

Epilepsy and “Women’s Health”

Epilepsy doesn’t define you, but it’s a part of your journey, especially when it comes to what is often called “women’s health.” Hormonal changes, periods, and parenthood come with extra considerations. Let’s walk through these nuances together.

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Certain stages in life present unique challenges.

  • Menstrual cycles: You might’ve noticed that your seizures tend to occur around your menstrual cycle. This phenomenon, termed “catamenial epilepsy,” can be attributed to the hormonal changes in your body. Tracking your seizures alongside your menstrual cycle can help you understand and manage them better.
  • Hormonal contraceptives: If you’re considering birth control, it’s essential to be informed. Some antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) can reduce the effectiveness of hormonal contraceptives and vice versa. It’s always good to discuss the best options with your neurologist and gynecologist.
  • Bone health: Some AEDs are linked to decreased bone density, which can heighten the risk of osteoporosis, especially as you approach menopause. A calcium and vitamin D-rich diet, along with regular check-ups, can be valuable in this aspect.
  • Fertility: While many people with epilepsy have successful pregnancies, some studies suggest a slightly reduced fertility rate. If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, consider consulting a specialist to understand your unique circumstances better.

Pregnancy Considerations for Women With Epilepsy

The dream of parenthood is both exhilarating and filled with questions, especially when you’re living with epilepsy. Like every journey, there are steps to take and things to consider.

Preconception Planning

Before you embark on the voyage, some groundwork can make the journey smoother.

  • Medication review: Every person’s epilepsy is unique, and so is treatment. Before trying to conceive, it’s crucial to review your medication with your neurologist. Some antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) might pose risks during pregnancy, while others are safer.
  • Lifestyle choices: Ensuring a healthy lifestyle not only benefits you but your future baby as well. This includes managing stress, maintaining a balanced diet, and abstaining from smoking or alcohol.
  • Folic acid: A crucial prenatal vitamin, folic acid helps prevent congenital disabilities. It’s a good idea to start taking it even before you conceive.

Risks and Complications

It’s natural to have concerns, and being informed is the best way to navigate them. Here’s a look into some risks and how to manage them.

  • Seizure Control: The better controlled your seizures before pregnancy, the better they’ll be during pregnancy. While most pregnant people see no change in seizure frequency, some might experience more or fewer seizures.
  • Medication Impact: While AEDs are crucial for controlling seizures, they can sometimes pose risks to your baby, such as congenital disabilities. However, remember that uncontrolled seizures can be riskier than the medication itself. It’s all about finding the right balance with your doctor’s help.
  • Regular Check-ups: Pregnancy with epilepsy requires a bit more medical supervision. Regular visits with your neurologist and obstetrician can ensure both you and your baby are doing well.

Labor and Delivery

The moment you’ve been preparing for is drawing near. Labor and delivery are milestones in your pregnancy journey, and no matter how well-equipped you are, epilepsy does introduce a few additional considerations.

Preparing for Labor

A bit of preparation goes a long way, especially when it’s about welcoming your baby into the world.

  • Communication: It’s essential to ensure that your labor and delivery team is well-informed about your epilepsy. Keeping the lines of communication open with your doctors can help make the process smoother.
  • Birth plan: While every birth is unpredictable, having a plan that considers your epilepsy can be reassuring. Discuss potential scenarios with your doctor, like what to do if you have a seizure during labor.
  • Manage stress: Stress can sometimes trigger seizures. Surround yourself with supportive loved ones and trust the medical professionals assisting you.

During Labor and Delivery

As you move through the labor process, understanding what to expect and how to manage potential challenges can make all the difference.

  • Medication management: It’s crucial to stick to your epilepsy medication schedule, even during labor. Your medical team can assist in administering your doses on time.
  • Seizure preparedness: While most people with epilepsy go through labor and delivery without seizures, it’s wise to be prepared. The medical team will have emergency medications on hand if needed.
  • Constant monitoring: You and your baby will likely be closely monitored to ensure the well-being of both of you. This includes tracking your baby’s heart rate and your vital signs.

Postpartum Considerations

Bringing your baby home is a joyous occasion, but it’s also a time of transition. There are postpartum factors you’ll want to consider to ensure both your and your baby’s well-being.

Adjusting Medications

Your body will change after childbirth, and so will your medication needs.

  • Consultation: It’s essential to meet with your neurologist shortly after giving birth. They can guide any necessary adjustments to your medications.
  • Breastfeeding concerns: If you plan to breastfeed, discuss with your doctor how your medications might affect breast milk and the baby. Most antiepileptic drugs are safe, but it’s always best to double-check.
  • Monitor for changes: Stay vigilant for any shifts in your seizure patterns or medication side effects. The postpartum period can bring about hormonal changes that influence epilepsy.

Supporting Mother and Baby

Taking care of a new baby is an incredible experience, but it’s also demanding. Here’s how you can support your baby and yourself during this time.

  • Seek help: Don’t hesitate to lean on friends, family, or professional caregivers for assistance. Taking breaks and getting enough rest can help reduce potential seizure triggers.
  • Maintain a schedule: Regular sleep and medication timings can significantly impact your well-being. While newborns can disrupt regular patterns, strive for consistency where you can.
  • Emotional well-being: It’s common to experience a rollercoaster of emotions after childbirth. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or down, please seek professional advice. Remember, caring for your mental health is a crucial part of being there for your baby.

Becoming a parent is both a challenge and a privilege. Your epilepsy might add a few more layers to the journey, but with awareness, support, and the proper considerations, you can navigate the postpartum period with confidence.

Getty image by ina9

Originally published: November 6, 2023
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