In animal studies, certain seizure medications can cause cell death in immature brains. Beta-estradiol, the mother's sex hormone, can block this effect while the baby is in the womb, but such protective effects are absent after birth.
"Concern was raised that breastfeeding by women taking antiepilepsy drugs may increase the risk of antiepilepsy drug-induced cell death," study researcher Kimford Meador, MD, with the University of Florida at Gainesville, says in a news release.
However, new research presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 60th Anniversary Annual Meeting in Chicago fails to demonstrate that breastfeeding is harmful to a child if the mother is taking certain seizure medications. The study is the first of its kind to examine the effect of breastfeeding and seizure medications.
The findings are based on an ongoing study that analyzed the cognitive abilities of 187 children 2 years old whose mothers took one of the following drugs for the treatment of epilepsy: Tegretol, Lamictal, Dilantin, or Depakote.
Among the study group, 41% of the children were breastfed. The breastfed children scored higher on the Mental Development Index (MDI) test than those who were not breastfed, regardless of the type of seizure medication. However, the difference was not statistically significant when factoring in the mother's IQ.
"Our early findings show breastfeeding during antiepilepsy drug treatment doesn't appear to have a negative impact on a child's cognitive abilities," Meador says.
Researchers caution that more research is needed to confirm their observations. The study analysis is part of the Neurodevelopmental Effects of Antiepileptic Drugs (NEAD) study, an ongoing trial to investigate how the use of seizure medications during pregnancy influences a child's cognitive abilities. Mothers were enrolled during pregnancy. The study aims to re-evaluate each child again at ages 3, 4 1/2, and 6.