With the right medical support, people with narcolepsy can have healthy, complication-free pregnancies. However, it is vital to discuss pregnancy plans with a doctor, as a person may need to change or stop their medication.
Certain narcolepsy medications
Narcolepsy symptoms can also change or intensify during pregnancy.
A doctor who specializes in narcolepsy can work with a pregnant person and their obstetrician or midwife to manage symptoms and contribute to a safe pregnancy. Keep reading to learn more about narcolepsy and pregnancy.
Most research to date suggests narcolepsy itself does not negatively affect pregnancy outcomes. A
However, narcolepsy can affect pregnancy in other ways. For example, people who experience cataplexy may be at risk of falls or injuries, which could affect pregnancy.
Additionally, a 2021 study reports that
In people with narcolepsy, their symptoms may be more intense than usual. Because of this, pregnant people with narcolepsy require frequent monitoring by a doctor or midwife.
There is not much research on the impact pregnancy has on narcolepsy symptoms. The biggest impact may come from stopping narcolepsy medications, as doing so may make symptoms worse during the pregnancy.
In a 2019 study of pregnant people with narcolepsy,
- 72.1% slept more
- 32.6% stopped working
- 27.9% stopped driving
It is unclear if pregnancy makes any long-term difference to someone’s narcolepsy symptoms once the pregnancy is over.
The most common narcolepsy medications increase the risk of congenital abnormalities. The risk may be especially high during the first trimester. For this reason, a person may need to stop taking narcolepsy medications before they try to become pregnant.
In a 2020 study of people who took modafinil and armodafinil during pregnancy, the risk of congenital abnormalities in the medication group was
The most common congenital abnormalities included:
- congenital torticollis, which is when a short or tight neck muscle that causes the neck to tilt
- hypospadias, which is when the opening of the urethra is not located at the tip of the penis in males
- congenital heart abnormalities
In the 2019 study of people with narcolepsy, most participants said they stopped taking medication during past pregnancies, with
However, some medications may be safe to take during pregnancy, so it is important to discuss all the options with a doctor either before becoming pregnant or at the earliest opportunity after conceiving.
Of the participants, 13.6% of people with narcolepsy had gestational diabetes, compared with 4.3% who did not have narcolepsy.
- needing an induction or C-section
- low blood sugar in the fetus
- respiratory distress in the fetus
However, even with the difference in rates, there were no significant differences in pregnancy outcomes between the two groups in the study.
People with narcolepsy can give birth in the same way as others. There is a possibility of cataplexy happening during or after the birth, but medical care and support can ensure people do not fall.
Some people with narcolepsy may choose to have a C-section so that the birth is more controlled, according to 2012 research. This allows people to schedule when birth takes place and may relieve some fears about what will happen if they experience cataplexy during labor.
No specific guidelines suggest that a C-section is the best delivery method for people with narcolepsy or that it leads to better outcomes. Pregnant people should discuss their options with a doctor.
Newborns can wake frequently from sleep and do not sleep according to adult schedules. As a result, many new parents experience periods of sleeplessness and exhaustion. For a person with narcolepsy, this may be even more challenging.
It may help to have a plan in place to ensure that parent and baby are both getting what they need. This may involve:
- if possible, dividing child care tasks equitably between partners, taking narcolepsy into account
- if this is not possible, hiring someone to help take care of the baby or enlisting help from a family member or friend
- talking with a lactation expert about safely breastfeeding with narcolepsy
- taking naps when the baby is asleep
- talking with a doctor about when it is safe to take narcolepsy medications again
People with narcolepsy often have healthy pregnancies, and research suggests they are no more likely to experience complications than the rest of the population. However, pregnancy with narcolepsy does come with some unique considerations and challenges.
To make pregnancy and birth as safe as possible, it is best to speak with a doctor before trying to conceive. They can explain the types of support a person might need and whether someone should stop taking their narcolepsy medication. If a person is already pregnant, they should speak with a doctor about this as soon as possible.
Developing a pregnancy and postpartum plan can also be helpful. Try working with a partner, family members, close friends, or a doula to devise and implement strategies to manage the transition to parenthood.