While many Government TDs are shredding each other to pieces over who got jobs and who didn’t, Fine Gael’s Jennifer Carroll MacNeil is quietly continuing to build a reputation as one of the more diligent and effective new members of the Dáil. Last night, the Dun Laoghaire TD took to social media to deliver a warning about a widely-used drug which, she says, can do real harm if taken by pregnant women:

1,600 women in Ireland, of childbearing age, are taking Epilem. Although it is a hugely effective medicine for epilepsy, if taken in pregnancy, the effects can be disastrous:

In women who take valproate during pregnancy, around 1 in every 10 babies will be born with birth defects.

Birth defects happen when the baby doesn’t develop properly in the womb. Other names for birth defects include congenital anomalies, congenital malformations and congenital abnormalities.

Birth defects seen in children whose mothers took valproate during pregnancy include:

Spina bifida (where the bones of the spine do not develop properly)

Facial and skull malformations (including cleft lip and palate, where the upper lip or facial bones are split)

Malformations of the limbs, heart, kidney, urinary tract and sexual organs

Basically, if you intend to become pregnant, you should not be taking this drug.

In fact, the risks in pregnancy (but only in pregnancy) are so great that the advice in the UK is that you should stop taking it well in advance of becoming pregnant, and see your doctor first:

“If you’re taking valproate and want to get pregnant, speak to your family doctor. Keep taking your epilepsy medicine and keep using contraception until you have spoken to your doctor. They can arrange for you to see an epilepsy specialist for advice about planning your pregnancy. If the specialist advises you to change your medicine, they should do this a long time before you become pregnant.”

Although the drug is labelled, Carroll-MacNeil says that awareness of the dangers is still low amongst Irish women.

It’s time that changed.