Epilepsy

Updated 17 July 2014

Mothers on epilepsy drugs can safely breastfeed

There have been concerns that using epilepsy drugs while breastfeeding could pose a threat to youngsters.

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Taking epilepsy drugs while breastfeeding does not appear to harm the developing brains of young children, a new study finds.

There have been concerns that using epilepsy drugs while breastfeeding could pose a threat to youngsters because it's been shown that some epilepsy drugs can cause cell death in young animals' brains.

Contradictory advice

And in spite of the fact that epilepsy experts recommend breastfeeding, "it is still a sensitive topic among women with epilepsy," noted one expert, Dr. Patricia Dugan, assistant professor of neurology at the Comprehensive Epilepsy Centre at NYU Langone Medical Centre, New York City.

"Despite reassuring published data, such as this article, patients frequently tell us that they receive contradictory advice from their obstetricians and paediatricians, resulting in a significant amount of distress for the mother," said Dugan, who was not connected to the new research. "Hopefully, papers such as these will encourage everyone involved in the care of women with epilepsy to promote breastfeeding," she said.

The new study included 181 children of mothers who had epilepsy and took drugs to control the condition. Nearly 43 percent of the children were breastfed for an average of seven months.

Read: How to wean your infant

IQ tests conducted on the children when they were 6 years old found no differences between those who were breastfed and those who were not, according to the study published online in JAMA Paediatrics.

"Our study does not provide a final answer, but we recommend breastfeeding to mothers with epilepsy, informing them of the strength of evidence for risks and benefits," wrote a team led by Dr. Kimford Meador, of Stanford University in California

Benefits for breastfed children

Another expert said the study offers valuable information.

"The authors controlled for many of the factors that might influence the intellectual outcome of this large number of children," noted Dr. Ian Holzman, chief of the division of newborn medicine at the Kravis Children's Hospital at Mount Sinai in New York City.

"By following these children through age 6, they were able to present information relevant to the important issue of school performance," he said. "This study allows us to counsel mothers who are planning to breastfeed that there doesn't seem to be any harm [in taking epilepsy medications]."

Dugan said the study also hinted at other benefits for breastfed children.

"It also showed that testing of breastfed children at 6 years old – an age when more meticulous testing can be performed – reflected beneficial effects of breastfeeding, with higher IQ and better verbal abilities than nonbreastfed children," she said.

Read more:
More breastfeeding, lower costs
Antidepressants may complicate breastfeeding
Breastfeeding lowers childhood obesity risk

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