File photo: Four in ten babies born to mothers who take the drug during pregnancy are at risk of developmental disorders, and one in ten is at risk of birth defects.

London - An epilepsy drug that can harm unborn babies will be banned among women and girls of a childbearing age unless they are on birth control, health officials have said.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has changed the licence for valproate medicines, which are given to people with epilepsy to prevent seizures.

Four in ten babies born to mothers who take the drug during pregnancy are at risk of developmental disorders, and one in ten is at risk of birth defects.

The MHRA has ruled that Epilim, Depakote and generic brands of valproate medicines can no longer be prescribed to women who have "childbearing potential" – unless they have a pregnancy prevention programme in place.

READ: Why Africa needs to be educated on epilepsy

Dr June Raine, of the MHRA, said: "We are committed to making sure women and girls are aware of the very real risks of taking valproate during pregnancy. However, it is vitally important women don’t stop taking valproate without first discussing it with their doctor."

Daily Mail