Sodium valproate and pregnancy: Support for parents and carers

January 25, 2018

Some anti-epileptic drugs are known to have potentially harmful effects on an unborn baby – particularly the medicine sodium valproate.

Due to on-going concerns from recent evidence that women are still not being informed of the risks of taking sodium valproate whilst pregnant, the Medicines for Children team have developed an additional information leaflet. The information is specifically designed to offer support to the parents and carers of daughters who have been prescribed sodium valproate, available to download here: Information for parents and carers on sodium valproate and pregnancy [PDF]

This new information leaflet addresses a need for tailored information for parents and carers to aid a conversation with girls / young women in their care who are taking sodium valproate, to help them to understand why it is vital to use contraception if having sex. It may be difficult for parents and carers to have conversations about sexual activity and contraception with their daughter; however, it is important that she understands the risks, so that she can make informed decisions.

Key facts concerning sodium valproate and the risks in pregnancy

  • Sodium valproate is a highly effective medicine used for the treatment of epilepsy, bipolar disorder and to prevent migraine headaches
  • However, sodium valproate can cause physical harm to a developing baby or developmental problems after birth
  • Babies born to mothers who take valproate medicines (Epilim and Depakote) during pregnancy have a 30–40% risk of developmental disability and a 10% risk of birth defects.
  • Due to these risks, it is vital that contraception is used if having sex to prevent pregnancy.
  • Anyone who is taking sodium valproate should discuss contraception with their doctor, epilepsy team, or family planning services, and ensure that the medical staff are aware that they are taking sodium valproate.
  • If there is any chance that the person taking sodium valproate might be pregnant, they should contact their doctor, nurse or a member of their epilepsy team straightaway for advice and support. Continue to take the medicine in the meantime.
  • Do not stop taking sodium valproate, as the person may have more seizures.
  • Sodium valproate is also known as valproate or valproic acid and by the brand names Convulex®, Epilim®, Epilim Chrono®, Epilim Chronosphere®, Episenta®, Epival® and Orlept®.

Resources available on Medicines for Children

Medicines for Children provides three patient information leaflets on sodium valproate. These are tailored to parents / carers, young people and their families, and are also suitable for health care professionals to direct their patients to: