A new research suggests that children whose mothers took anti-epileptic drugs during pregnancy might suffer from brain impairments.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Birmingham and partners in Australia, found that brain development problems were higher in children born to mothers who use sodium valproate (VPA) during pregnancy.

Previous studies have shown that exposure to anti-epileptic drugs in the womb can lead to the development of autism and other neurological disorders. Valproate is also used to relieve symptoms of epilepsy (seizure) and even headache. VPA works by stabilizing electrical activity in the brain.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently warned mothers-to-be against using valproate for migraines.

The study group was small. Researchers compared high resolution brain scans of seven year old children whose mothers had taken VPA during pregnancy to those obtained from children whose mothers didn't take the drug.

Researchers found in children of mothers who used the anti-epileptic drug had increased cortical thickness in the left inferior frontal gyrus and left pericalcarine sulcus. Also, brain areas dedicated to language development were absent.

Note that the study was based on a small group of participants. Women taking drugs for epilepsy should continue using the drugs under medical supervision.

"This is only a small group, but nonetheless it represents an important first step in understanding how taking VPA during pregnancy might effect a child's brain development," said Dr Amanda Wood, from the University of Birmingham

"VPA remains an important medication for people with epilepsy. What this study really tells us is that further research is required so that all women with epilepsy can make informed decisions about their medication use during pregnancy," Wood added in a news release.

The study is published in the journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.