SOURCE: Ian R. Holzman, M.D., professor of pediatrics, obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science, Icahn School of Medicine, and chief, division of newborn medicine, department of pediatrics, Kravis Children's Hospital at Mount Sinai, New York City; Patricia Dugan, M.D., assistant professor of neurology, Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City; JAMA Pediatrics, news release, June 16, 2014
MONDAY, June 16, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Taking epilepsy drugs while breast-feeding does not appear to harm the developing brains of young children, a new study finds.
There have been concerns that using epilepsy drugs while breast-feeding could pose a threat to youngsters because it's been shown that some epilepsy drugs can cause cell death in young animals' brains.
And in spite of the fact that epilepsy experts recommend breast-feeding, "it is still a sensitive topic among women with epilepsy," noted one expert, Dr. Patricia Dugan, assistant professor of neurology at the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City.
"Despite reassuring published data, such as this article, patients frequently tell us that they receive contradictory advice from their obstetricians and pediatricians, 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 breast-feeding," 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 breast-fed for an average of seven months.
IQ tests conducted on the children when they were 6 years old found no differences between those who were breast-fed and those who were not, according to the study published online June 16 in JAMA Pediatrics.
"Our study does not provide a final answer, but we recommend breast-feeding 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
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 breast-feed that there doesn't seem to be any harm [in taking epilepsy medications]."
Dugan said the study also hinted at other benefits for breast-fed children.
"It also showed that testing of breast-fed children at 6 years old -- an age when more meticulous testing can be performed -- reflected beneficial effects of breast-feeding, with higher IQ and better verbal abilities than nonbreast-fed children," she said.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about epilepsy and pregnancy.