Family Matters

Mothers’ Epilepsy Medication May Be O.K. for Breast-Feeding Babies

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Breast-feeding is urged on moms from all sides, from doctors to friends, but there are some women who can’t breast-feed for medical reasons. Some medications are incompatible with breast-feeding, too. Consider women with epilepsy, whose seizure medication has been thought to negatively impact their children’s IQ.

Now a new study published online today in Neurology indicates that the drugs may have no harmful effect after all. It’s one of the first large studies of the effects of epilepsy drugs on breast-feeding babies. (More on Study: Breast-Feeding Moms Get Just as Much (or Little) Rest as Formula-Feeders)

“While more research is needed with larger numbers of women and their babies, these results are reassuring to women who want to give their babies all the benefits of breast-feeding but also need to remain on their epilepsy medications to avoid devastating seizures,” says study author Kimford Meador, a neurologist at Emory University.

The study tracked 194 pregnant women each taking one epilepsy drug. The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) advises pregnant women against taking more than one drug because a combination of multiple drugs has been found to increase the risk of birth defects. (More on I ♥ Boobies: ACLU Defends Girls’ Right to Wear Sassy Bracelets)

The women in the study delivered 199 babies, 42% of whom were breast-fed. When the children were 3, they were given IQ tests, which revealed no significant difference between the children who were breast-fed and those who were not. (The breast-fed children scored 99 on the test, while the formula-fed babies scored 98.)

The research was conducted on women taking the drugs carbamazepine, lamotrigine, phenytoin or valproate. There are other, newer drugs for epilepsy, but they were not evaluated.

The AAN recommends pregnant women avoid valproate due to risks of birth defects and cognitive deficits. When tested, the children whose mothers used valproate had lower IQ scores, regardless of whether they breast-fed. (More on Time.comPregnant Women with Breast Cancer Should Do Chemo)

“Many women are counseled not to breast-feed due to the lack of information on the effects of these drugs, but breast-feeding has many positive emotional effects for the mother and the baby along with the decreased risks for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity in the child and breast and ovarian cancer in the mother,” says Dr. Autumn Klein, author of an editorial accompanying the study, and a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “This study highlights the pressing need for more data on epilepsy drugs in breast milk and the long-term effects.”

Klein said that this is one of the first large studies on breast-feeding while taking an epilepsy drug.