Congratulations! You've successfully become pregnant and given birth to your baby. This is something many women take for granted, but when you have epilepsy, fertility and pregnancy pose unique challenges. Now that you've had your baby, you probably have a number of concerns and questions. And you may or may not have to make some lifestyle changes to keep your baby safe and healthy.
One question will arise almost immediately. Can you safely breastfeed your child? Just as you may have worried about the effect of your anti-seizure medications on your developing baby, you might wonder if these medications could be transmitted in your breast milk.
Effects of Epilepsy Drugs on Your Baby
For most women, the answer is that breastfeeding is safe for your child. Small amounts of anti-seizure drugs appear in breast milk. You may have noticed that your baby is sleepy; that's because some anti-seizure medications may cause sleepiness. Talk to your doctor about alternating between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding formulas. Remember, your baby was exposed to the drug during your pregnancy. The amount of medication found in breast milk is less than the amount in your bloodstream during pregnancy.
"If a mother wants to breastfeed, we generally say she should go ahead and do so," says Mark Yerby, MD, MPH, associate clinical professor of neurology, public health and preventive medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. Yerby is also the founder of North Pacific Epilepsy Research.
If you are taking Luminal or Mysoline, you may notice that your baby is overly sleepy or irritable. If this becomes a problem, ask your doctor or the baby's pediatrician if you should supplement with a bottle.
Bringing Baby Home
Many women with epilepsy worry about what will happen if they should have a seizure while holding the baby. This is a normal, reasonable fear. The first thing to do is talk with your doctor about your concern. You and your doctor can work together to develop a plan to keep your baby safe.
Right after you come home from the hospital with your new baby, you may need some extra help in the house. Giving birth is exhausting and stressful, and involves a lot of hormonal changes. That can increase your risk of breakthrough seizures. So if someone offers to stay with you for a while to help with the baby and give you time to rest, you might want to take them up on it.
"The kinds of precautions you should take with your baby depend on what form your seizures take," says Jacqueline French, MD, professor of neurology at New York University's Langone Medical Center and co-director of Epilepsy Research and Epilepsy Clinical Trials at the NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center. For example, if you often have seizures where you lose awareness of your surroundings for a time, your baby could be in danger if you are the only adult there. You may want to arrange for another person to help you out until your child is a bit older. If your seizures are under control, you should still take precautions to protect your baby, although you may not need someone else with you as often or for as long.
If you have the kinds of seizures where you fall or lose awareness, there are some things you should think about.
When you carry your baby:
- Use a baby carrier or sling.
- If you are worried about falls, use an umbrella stroller in the house instead of carrying the baby in your arms.
- Do not carry your baby when cooking or ironing.
When you feed your baby:
- Sit in a comfortable chair, on the bed, or on the floor. Do not feed the baby while standing up.
- If you are bottle-feeding, don't carry the baby with you to the kitchen to prepare a bottle. Instead, leave the baby in the crib or playpen.
- With an older baby, make sure he or she is firmly strapped into the high chair or booster seat.
When changing or bathing your baby:
- If your seizures are not completely controlled, don't bathe your baby in the tub by yourself. Wait until someone is with you. If you are alone, give the baby a sponge bath instead.
- The safest place to change your baby is on a changing pad on the floor. If you use a changing table, be sure to strap the baby on the table securely.
- Keep plenty of diapers and other supplies on every floor of your house, so you will not have to climb stairs as often.
Baby Proofing Your Home
"Women who are having active seizures have to be much more careful about their own health and safety, and the health and safety of their baby," says French.
Epilepsy Foundation, Women and Epilepsy Initiative, "Parenting Concerns."
Jacqueline French, MD, professor of neurology, NYU's Langone Medical Center; co-director, Epilepsy Research and Epilepsy Clinical Trials at the NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center.
Mark Yerby, MD, MPH, associate clinical professor of neurology, public health & preventive medicine, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, Oregon; founder, North Pacific Epilepsy Research, Portland.