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Roundtable Baby Shower backs Safe Mum Safe Baby campaign

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Nicola Swanborough

Roundtable Baby Shower backs Safe Mum, Safe Baby campaign

MPs, scientists and clinicians today backed Epilepsy Society’s call for the government to stop babies from being born with preventable disabilities, by investing more money into urgent research. 

Screenshot of delegates at the Safe Mum, Safe Baby round table baby shower, listening to Yasmin talking
Epilepsy Society Safe Mum, Safe Baby Roundtable Baby Shower

At a first ever virtual Round Table Baby Shower organised by the charity, young women with epilepsy described the challenges they face in choosing between medications that will control their seizures but risk harming their babies during pregnancy, or medication that is safer during pregnancy but may leave them with uncontrolled seizures.

And leading epilepsy scientist, Professor Sanjay Sisodiya, Director of Genomics at the Epilepsy Society said that now was the time to address the science at the heart of this problem, following the lead that science has taken in addressing, at speed, the challenges of the pandemic. Watch the roundtable.

Increased risk

While the risks around the epilepsy drug valproate during pregnancy have been recognised for some time, a review by the Commission for Human Medicines has said that many of the most commonly prescribed epilepsy medications also increase the risk of harm for an unborn child during pregnancy.

WARNING: No woman should stop taking her epilepsy medication without consulting her doctor.

Professor Sisodiya told the meeting: “We do not understand why some drugs cause more problems than others, or why some cause problems for some women but not others. We do not know what the fundamental mechanisms are, and this is where the science is missing – science that could bring hope for women with epilepsy.”

The charity has launched a petition urging the government to invest more money into vital research that could lead to a better understanding of the risks associated with some epilepsy drugs during pregnancy. This could help to identify which women would be at greatest risk and ensure that they have the safest treatment possible.

Please sign our petition.

Pressure from MPs

Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP and Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, told delegates at the Baby Shower that the best way to ensure the government acts on this issue is to ask their MPs to put pressure on the Department of Health and Social Care.

“I can say as a former minister, when I started getting a pattern of questions coming in again and again and again, eventually it pushes you to the point where it is easier to act than to keep fending off an issue – it is a tactic well worth deploying,” she told the meeting.

The Round Table Baby Shower was also attended by cross-party MPs including Alex Norris, Shadow Minister for Patient Safety, Abena Oppong-Asare, Shadow Treasury Minister, Christian Wakeford, Cat Smith, Emma Hardy and Olivia Blake.

Trudy Harrison letter of support

Trudy Harrison, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, was unable to attend but sent a statement of support. She said: 

“As a mother of four I know all about both the joy and anxiety associated with pregnancy. Having a baby is one of the most exciting times in a woman’s life – but it can also be worrying. For women (with epilepsy) these concerns are multiplied many times over.

“Safer medicines research is very important work and it is imperative that alternative drugs or treatments are found. No woman should be forced to choose between controlling their seizures and having a child. I hope that this is not a choice women will have to make in the near future.

“These are issues that need to be raised, and I thank the Epilepsy Society for doing just that. The campaign for safer medicines for pregnant women with epilepsy has my full backing.”

'Right not a favour'

Clare Pelham, Chief Executive at the Epilepsy Society promised that the charity would do everything it could to ensure that the funding was made available for this research.

“We know the money is there, we know it has been put aside, and we want our fair share – it is our right , it is not a favour,” she said. “Why should 300,000 women with epilepsy have to worry about their babies. They should be able to start a family in the secure knowledge that they are facing no more difficulties than anyone else.”

Women with epilepsy tell their stories

Yasmin is smiling at the camera. She has long, dark hairRead Yasmin's story

Lauren is smiling at the cameraRead Lauren's story

Watch the roundtable

Watch the Epilepsy Society's Safe Mum, Safe Baby Roundtable Baby Shower above.