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Explains what mood stabilising drugs are, what they're used for, possible side effects and information about withdrawal.
Expecting a baby is an emotional time for anyone, but it can be particularly challenging if you experience a mental health problem like bipolar disorder, which you usually manage with mood stabilising medication. This page contains information on:
All mood stabilising drugs carry risks of harm to your baby, so regardless of whether your pregnancy is planned or unplanned, your doctor will probably ask you to consider either:
Ultimately, you will need to weigh the possible risks to your baby against any potential harm in changing or coming off your medication, and come to your own decision about what's best for you, based on your own experience.
The risks to your baby associated with taking lithium during pregnancy are:
If you decide it's best for you to continue with your lithium treatment, you and your doctor should take the following steps to manage the risks:
All the anticonvulsant mood stabilisers carry the following risks to your baby:
Each individual anticonvulsant drug also carries additional risks, which are outlined below.
Valproate carries the highest risk of danger to your baby out of all the anticonvulsant mood stabilisers. It can cause defects and symptoms in your baby which are given the general name of foetal valproate syndrome. The possible harms include:
These harms are serious and you should not take valproate if there is a risk you may become pregnant, unless no other medication is suitable for you and you are using reliable contraception. You should receive a patient booklet and patient alert card with your prescription informing you of the risks.
Carbamazepine could cause possible birth defects. There is evidence that taking carbamazepine during the first 3 months of pregnancy increases the risk of your baby developing:
It could also cause a vitamin K deficiency in your newborn baby, which could lead to dangerous bleeding. This risk is highest if you take carbamazepine in the last 3 months of pregnancy.
"[While] I was on Epilim (sodium valproate) … I had a child born with various defects and she also has learning difficulties and GDD [global developmental delay] due to this drug. I was not told of the severe effects it can cause. So if anyone is thinking of getting pregnant please discuss [this] with your doctor."
The risks to your baby associated with taking asenapine during pregnancy are:
Coming to a decision you feel comfortable with about what's right for you and your baby can be difficult, and it's understandable to feel conflicted. As well as talking to your doctor or psychiatrist, you might find it helpful to explore these options for extra support:
You might also find it helpful to read our pages on how to cope as a parent with a mental health problem, which includes information on helping yourself, looking after children, and other kinds of support available.
This information was published in February 2015. We will revise it in 2019.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.