Expert Iconexpert advice MORE

Can Dilantin Affect Offspring?

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q: My husband and I are in the process of adopting two boys, ages six and eight. The boys' birth mom has had a seizure disorder from the time she was an infant -- so severe in fact that she recently underwent a partial lobotomy. Throughout her pregnancies with both boys, the birth mom took Dilantin to control her seizures. I've heard a lot of conflicting information about the effects of this drug on the fetus. What effects might Dilantin have on the boys?

A: There are a number of drugs that are known to be "teratogenic" -- defined as causing changes in appearance or functioning when the fetus is exposed to the drug in the womb. In general, exposure during the first trimester is usually most harmful. Unfortunately, seizure medicines are one of those classes of drugs that are potentially very problematic when taken by a pregnant woman. There is no known dose amount that has been determined to be associated with specific patterns of malformation. Whenever possible, pregnant women are counseled about the medicine's potential impact on their newborn and attempts are made to limit the dose of medicine needed to the lowest amount possible. Often times, stopping the seizure medicine(s) during pregnancy may precipitate seizures in mom that can be hazardous to both the mom and fetus.

Dilantin used throughout pregnancy is associated with adverse congenital effects, including poor growth beginning prenatally, mild to moderate mental deficiency, depressed nasal bridge, short forward-positioned nose, bowed upper lip, cleft lip with or without cleft palate, heart defects, and poor nail development. Multiple behavioral effects including locomotor and learning and memory deficits have reportedly been produced by Dilantin in some studies.

You have not provided any detailed information about the boys' physical characteristics or their development to date. Genetic factors may also play a role. Under the present circumstances, I would suggest a consultation with a geneticist who is in the best position to provide you with the education and support you need for the boys and their birthmom.

More on: Expert Advice

Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


8 Epic Emoji-Themed Crafts, Activities & Recipes
Check out the best emoji crafts, activities, and recipes! They're perfect for an emoji-themed birthday party or anytime you need DIY (and screen-free!) summer activities for kids, tweens, and teens.

Find Today's Newest & Best Children's Books
Looking for newly released books for your child? Try our Book Finder tool to search for new books by age, type, and theme!

10 Free Summer Learning Worksheets
Print these free printables for preschoolers and kindergarteners to help your child's mind stay sharp until September!

Ready for Kindergarten?
Try our award-winning Kindergarten Readiness app! This easy-to-use checklist comes with games and activities to help your child build essential skills for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Facebook icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks