Unplanned Pregnancy with Epilepsy
Dealing with an unplanned pregnancy can be very stressful for any woman. For women with epilepsy, coping with an unplanned pregnancy with epilepsy can be especially stressful because
of the increased risk of complications in pregnancy.
It is important to organise an urgent appointment with your doctor or neurologist if you become unexpectedly pregnant and you have epilepsy.
Studies indicate that women with epilepsy are at higher risk of experiencing an unplanned pregnancy due to the interactions that can occur between hormonal contraception and anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). It is normal to experience mixed emotions in the event of an unplanned pregnancy. You may feel worried about a number of things including how you will proceed with the pregnancy, whether your epilepsy or AED treatment will affect your unborn baby, the financial stress of having a baby, and whether pregnancy will impact your seizure control.
This page provides you with some steps to take if you are feeling like this.
Risks associated with pregnancy and epilepsy
Whilst most pregnant women with epilepsy (93%) experience successful pregnancies and have healthy babies, there is an increased risk of complications in pregnancy. Some of these risks include:
- Changes in seizure control throughout pregnancy
- Risk of congenital malformation because of AED treatment
- Increased risk of foetal death and stillbirth
The best way to manage these risks is to plan for pregnancy in consultation with your doctor well before conception. However, as an unplanned pregnancy can occur even when contraception is being used, consider the following steps.
What to do if you experience unplanned pregnancy
- Do not stop taking your AEDs without the guidance of your doctor or neurologist. Doing so could increase the severity and frequency of your seizures, which could be harmful to you and your unborn baby. Your doctor may request changes to your medication during pregnancy to protect the baby from harm.
- Organise an urgent appointment with your doctor or neurologist immediately
- Discuss the following things at your appointment with your doctor
o A blood test to confirm your pregnancy
o Your recent level of seizure control
o The safety of your AEDs treatment
o The management of risks associated with pregnancy and epilepsy
o Early diagnostic ultrasound and associated blood tests
o The appropriate intake of folic acid to protect against congenital malformation
o Your future contraception options to prevent unplanned pregnancies
- Consider your options in collaboration with your doctor. Deciding how you will proceed with your pregnancy is a very personal decision. Seek further support from your family, friends and professional supports if you need it.
- Maintaining optimal health is important during this time. Be aware of your seizure triggers and do what you can to avoid them. This can include ensuring you get 7-9 hours of sleep every night, minimising stress by doing things like taking some time to rest, and being careful to take your medication as instructed by your doctor. Our Epilepsy and Stress page has some other useful tips for you to consider.
The Australian Pregnancy Register can provide further information about epilepsy and pregnancy, and the use of AEDs during pregnancy. Contact 1800 069 772 or via the website at:
The Royal Women’s Hospital provides unplanned pregnancy support including unbiased counselling
Contact (03) 8345 3063 for enquiries or via the website at: https://www.thewomens.org.au/patients-visitors/clinics-and-services/unplanned-pregnancy-services/.
The Babes Project can provide ongoing pregnancy and parenting support for women in Victoria if you decide to continue with your pregnancy. Contact 1300 140 212 or via the website at:
Other helpful information about epilepsy, pregnancy, contraception and anti-epileptic drugs can be found on our website or contact our Information Line on 1300 761 487.
© Epilepsy Foundation August 2017. The information contained on this page provides general information about epilepsy. It does not provide specific advice. Specific health and medical advice should always be obtained from a qualified health professional