More than 326,000 American children under age 15 have epilepsy, a neurological disorder that causes seizures. Although epilepsy can develop at any age, seizures occur more frequently during the first years of life, when the brain is experiencing dramatic growth. Brain problems resulting from lack of oxygen during childbirth, stroke, tumors, and infectious diseases such as meningitis account for less than half of epilepsy cases. "The condition also runs in families," says Adam Hartman, M.D., assistant professor of neurology and pediatrics at The Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore.
The good news is that two thirds of children with epilepsy outgrow their seizures by the time they enter their teens. In the meantime, up to 70 percent of children respond well to antiseizure medications. This makes caring for an infant with epilepsy a little easier. Try these other tips to give your baby the TLC he needs.
Feeding. It's not uncommon for babies with epilepsy to sleep through their feedings, especially if they're recovering from a seizure. "This, in turn, can interfere with growth and reaching certain developmental milestones on time," notes Dr. Hartman, who serves on the executive committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) Section on Neurology. For these reasons, your pediatrician will monitor your baby's growth more closely. Talk to your pediatrician about ways to ensure that your baby is getting the nutrition he needs. This may mean feeding him more often when he's alert. When your baby starts solids, be sure to always strap him into his high chair. You don't want him to fall out if he has a seizure.
Sleeping. Babies with epilepsy tend to sleep more, partly because drowsiness is a side effect of antiseizure medications. "Plus, the brain expends a lot of energy during a seizure, which can make babies feel groggy for a few hours after having one," Dr. Hartman says. Seizures can occur while your baby sleeps, so keep her crib free of blankets, toys, and pillows (this applies to all babies, not just those with epilepsy). And place her to sleep on her back -- it's still the best way to prevent sudden infant death syndrome. Because insufficient rest, such as a missed nap, can increase seizure risk, try to keep your baby on a regular sleep schedule.
Diaper Changing. The safest place to dress or diaper your baby is on the floor, with a pad or blanket underneath him. If you want to use a changing table, use the straps to secure him to the table and keep at least one hand on him at all times.
Bathing. You already know that you should never leave a young child unattended in a bathtub. This rule is especially true for a child who is prone to seizures.
Playing. If your child has seizures that cause sudden falls, your doctor may recommend that she wear a helmet when playing outdoors or in areas with hard surfaces.
Reaching Milestones. Seizures are sometimes associated with learning or behavior difficulties. For instance, about a quarter of children with epilepsy also have autism. Talk to your pediatrician if you are concerned about your baby's learning or development. Your child should be evaluated to determine whether he is eligible to receive free services through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Epilepsy may always be a part of your child's life, so it's important to have a good support network. You can connect with other families dealing with epilepsy and learn more about the disorder from the Epilepsy Foundation.
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