Management of epilepsy in women of childbearing age: practical recommendations

CNS Drugs. 2006;20(5):373-87. doi: 10.2165/00023210-200620050-00003.


Women with epilepsy should not be discouraged from becoming pregnant as the likelihood of having a healthy baby is very high. However, in such women, early and individualised counselling about pregnancy and contraception is essential. Ideally, pregnancies should be planned, folic acid (5 mg/day) given and antiepileptic drug (AED) treatment optimised well before conception to ensure that the lowest dosage that controls seizures is administered. When initiating AEDs in a woman of childbearing age, the most appropriate drug for the seizure type and syndrome should be chosen, although it is preferable to avoid valproate, because of a possible elevated risk of fetal malformations, when equi-effective agents are available for a given syndrome. In women who become pregnant while taking AEDs, fetal monitoring should include high-resolution ultrasonography before week 20 and measurement of serum alpha-fetoprotein levels. Amniocentesis is not routinely indicated. The measurement of blood concentrations of AEDs can be useful to ensure that the lowest possible maintenance dosage is being used, especially for those drugs whose pharmacokinetics are likely to change during pregnancy. Breastfeeding should be encouraged whatever the treatment administered.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / etiology
  • Anticonvulsants / adverse effects*
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lactation / drug effects
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / chemically induced*
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology


  • Anticonvulsants